Consequences in design
Design projects are a series of decisions
Erika Hall once said that design projects are a series of decisions. Although I do not consider myself to have a good memory nor take great notes, this quote has stayed with me for years. Everything we design, and everything we choose not to design, is a decision. And just like in life, every decision comes with consequences.
Documenting decisions and consequences
I was recently out walking Taylor while listening to the Complementary podcast with Katie Langerman and Anthony Hobday about how to convince visual designers to prioritize functionality over aesthetics. This topic is very important to me, and I highly recommend the entire episode. What really resonated with me was Katie's discussion of the design process at Github.
She mentioned that they document their design choices and their consequences. I found this intriguing! While it may result in a never-ending spiral (she mentioned that she is now working on a project addressing a consequence that will result in new consequences), it's interesting to think about design as a series of decisions and their natural consequences. This process is beneficial because it helps you make smarter, more informed choices, which should lead to fewer or less severe consequences.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about user research. Every couple of years, I ask my newsletter readers what they think about the newsletter and how it could be improved. Although it may not seem like a lot (it's literally five questions), it provides me with an idea of how I'm doing and allows me to validate or dismiss some of the assumptions I might have. As it turns out, most people do not care about the frequency of newsletter delivery, whether it's bi-weekly or every three months, as long as the quality is good.
As a long-time Typeform fan (aren’t we all?), I found it to be too expensive. This year, I decided to go with Tally instead, and I'm so glad I did. It was a great experience, and although I could have used the free tier, I opted to pay for the premium version just to support the creators.
Anyway, I wanted to conduct research for both my newsletter and an upcoming product design course I am planning. As Erika Hall argues, what we need is just enough research, which can sometimes be as simple as five questions to get us started, and other times, definitely more.
I've worked with designers who have been skeptical of user research to say the least. This is where designers tend to bring up the alleged Henry Ford quote that if he had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. While I think that misses the mark a bit, I wonder if all of us would benefit from looking at user research as a tool for reducing the severity of consequences. If seen as a tool for better decision-making, its true worth becomes apparent. Or are some designers so self-assured that they feel their experience alone suffices for decision-making?
While our decisions have consequences, every design project is also a steady stream of consequences. Stephen Ango brilliantly phrases this in his post “Design is compromise”;
Compromise is neither good nor bad, it’s something we do every day. It’s decision making. Prioritizing. Deciding that one feature is more important than another. It’s finding the right balance between two competing desires. Which compromises you make — that’s what matters. Choosing the right compromises is what defines good design. - Design is compromise