Can you export that .png, bro?
This topic might seem like a broken record, yet no matter how many times repeated — while it continues to get more obnoxious — there seems to be little added understanding to what design is within some organizations.
My biggest concern is not rooted in being affirmed in my profession or appropriately esteemed. Rather, my concern is that designers are putting their soul into producing a product that fits into the lifestyle of a user, yet somehow we become reduced to aesthetic polishers.
It’s just pixels, right? They usually just fall into place, aligning appropriately in a perfectly scalable solution that was whipped together quickly and fit the users need like Cinderella’s slipper. All designers need to do is slap some colour on there, add some padding and bippity-boppity-boo – your mouse is now a horse.
Phew! I’m glad we did some design thinking on that one. I wasn’t sure which grey to use.
Is it obvious that I’m being ridiculous? Sometimes I’m not quite sure. It kind of baffles me that design thinking is used primarily in problem solving scenarios like product discovery, user research and strategy sessions, yet there is little conviction that this is actually a fundamental part of the design process.
“The amount of design that goes into a solution is not the number of UI elements used, but the number of times your solution has fallen short.”
The reality of what might be contributing to this underlying ambiguity of design is the thought that the solution is always logically obvious. I’d like to argue that it never is and that it’s the responsibility of the design process to help startups deliver better solutions.
How design provides solutions may look like a series of deliverables — such as wireframes and hi-fidelity prototypes — that are hot-off-the-press like Saturday morning’s newspaper. That’s still a thing right? While these deliverables are important requirements for the development teams, the process in which they came about are much more of an investment than you may expect.
“The reality of what might be contributing to this underlying ambiguity of design is the thought that the solution is always logically obvious.”
Discovery vs. deliverables
As soon as you pin a deliverable to design it’s immediately associated to the visual aspect of the solution. No one outside of the design role will ever look at a prototype without their opinion being subject to what it looks like. Is that button supposed to be green or aqua?
I get it, designers know how to make something look great! I’m proud of the fact that I can look at something my team has designed and feel excited about the general look and feel of it. But my critique of their outcome is much more weighted to the process they performed to discover this solution because said discovery process can produce a multitude of solutions. We can’t ship something without ensuring we’ve exhausted our options and failed a couple times.
“Becoming a great designer is less about producing elaborate interfaces and more about trying again, and again — and again.”
Design sprints are great at rapid discovery — and rapid failure — because it forces everybody involved to iterate on their ideas more than they thought they could. The amount of design that goes into a solution is not the number of UI elements used, but the number of times your solution has fallen short. Becoming a great designer is less about producing elaborate interfaces and more about trying again, and again — and again. Failure is the quickest way to learn and always cheaper before development.
It’s going to be ok
I have to remind myself that the work we do in design may never be appreciated in the way we wish it was. There will always be the people who think we’re pixel pushers, photoshop wizards and meme masters. As true as that may be, we must continue to advocate for behaviour driven solutions, quick iterations, out-of-the-box thinking and user validation.
If you are a designer, don’t be discouraged with misconceived notions of what you do or statements like “make this pretty” and “did you think about the user?” While both of those statements are demeaning to say the least, they are also reminders that we have more work to do to make design understood. Keep failing, keep trying and don’t give up.
If you’re one of the people who may not know what design is all about, the best thing you can do is to get curious. Next time you have a complex problem to solve, ask a designer nearby to help — I’m sure they’d whiteboard it out with you. I would — I freaking love whiteboards!