Design is a conversation
I was asked in an interview once: What is the purpose of design? I started to answer, “It is a way to find the best solution to a prob…” and stopped mid-sentence. That answer seemed formulaic, something I had been taught in art school. Instead, I reflected on the role of design in my career, said: “Design is a conversation.”
I think design is about solving problems in the most understandable and intuitive way. But that solution cannot be arrived at without a conversation between designer and client, designer and engineer, designer and user.
Clients and users don’t always know what they want, and even if they do, it is difficult to articulate an abstract concept. Design makes ideas visible. It illuminates concepts in ways that people can react to them. Sometimes those reactions are negative, other times they are generative.
I’ve seen many designers fall into the trap of trying to make their work "perfect" before sharing it with others. To me, this is as futile as not speaking until you have articulated the perfect sentence. Such an approach leaves no room for the other person to contribute, and makes the designer feel defensive as they have already put in so much effort. Instead, put your work out there as soon as possible. Get reactions, start a conversation.
We all know the merits of user testing. We know, as the creators of an app or website, we are too close to it to have an unbiased opinion. Therefore, we put our app in the hands of users and see how they react to it. This conversation is critical in understanding whether we have solved the problem in the most intuitive way.
An even more fundamental conversation to be had is amongst the team tasked with collectively coming up with a solution to a problem. Founders, product managers, engineers, designers. All of us play a role in the outcome. Having a formal review with everyone in the room leads to design by committee. But, having a steady stream of design conversation—through mockups and sketches posted frequently, whether in a chat room or on a bulletin board — gives everyone a chance to take part in the conversation. And when this stream is truly steady, and not merely an occasional occurrence, people will weigh in on what matters most to them.
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