Designers: design less, think more

Albert Einstein supposedly said “If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it”. Then why do so many designers still jump straight into insert designing tool of preference ?

One of the biggest shifts in the way I work as I’ve become more senior is the way I approach (visual) design. I added in the visual to that sentence because defining the problem and making sure you understand it IS part of any good design process. In the early days of my career, I’d be happy to start designing by knowing what brand the site was for and maybe a rough outline of what the site should achieve (marketing site, corporate site, etc). In the early 21st century, I wasn’t alone tackling projects this way. Fast-forward 20 years and you’d assume things in the field have changed - that designers approach projects more thoughtfully and disciplined?

One of the reasons I realized that I’m a better Product / UX Designer than visual designer is that I never had the patience (or lets be honest, skill) to do in-depth visual design. I love understanding the problem we’re trying to solve through stakeholder interviews, research, and strategic analysis. Design? That’s just the execution. But without knowing what problem you’re solving (and I mean what’s really the problem), there’s a good chance you’ll end up with something beautiful that doesn’t fulfill the goals of the project or, even worse, solve the problem.

Is it generational?

Some weeks ago, Frank Bach asked what some of the surprising things working in Product are on Twitter. Sean Goodwin, a product designer at Twitter (well this turned meta) really hit the nail with: Once you get to Figma, most of the hard work is already done. My only edit would be “Once you get to Figma, most of the hard work should already be done”.

So maybe it’s a generational thing and each generation is forced to learn this themselves - that spending time understanding and defining the problem is key to achieving success. Maybe it’s something you learn only by rushing off to Figma to start trying to elaborate and discovering the need to define the problem, sometimes too late.

Break the loop?

Surely I can’t be the only one who recognizes that this is a problem. One generation should share the processes that lead to success with the next, right? Make it completely accessible. Instead, we see too many instances where knowledge isn’t shared and, instead, guarded as if the next generation is a threat. New designers (visual of course) are shuffled almost universally into production roles regardless of their skillset when they could be inspired to evolve into product owners and leaders. This “I’m going to limit you until I say the time is right” mentality slows the growth of our industry whereas the “I’m going to empower you and give you the right tools” mentality provides valuable resources to the whole community and inspires innovation and new processes.

The reason I’m saying this is that it is core to what I believe. Sharing information - hard fought knowledge - is necessary. That can be done through mentoring, teaching (like I have at Hyper Island), and free exchange of ideas and knowledge to the wider masses (in blogs like this one and others that have inspired me). Only then can we break the loop and lift up the next generation of designers to solve the problems that an ever evolving world presents.

So, who will be the design innovators of tomorrow? Of 20 years from now? Answer: the ones we share with - and inspire - today. Get out there, inspire young designers, and break the loop!

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