Design isn’t just messy at research, it’s messy ALL the time

Monish Subherwal Design Philosophy 1 Comment

One of my biggest pet peeves are mundane images that are shared on LinkedIn and the web.  A whole bunch of them are cliché and/or have been worn out by reuse (especially, the UI is NOT UX image on the web thats SUPER common, how many times and ways can you tell people that UI is not equal to UX?).

A big NO-NO

One image looks GOOD, but bothers me:

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.48.19 PM

The image shows a tremendous amount of “messy clutter” during the research phase in design.  It indicates that a lot of activity to discover and define the project happens in the beginning of the UX process, and that once that is “figured” out, the rest of the process is less messy.

But that’s not true.  The image is not accurate.

Design is messy ALL the time

Here’s the reality:  design is messy ALL the time.  NOT just during research.

There is ambiguity throughout the process.

And, to be even more clear, I feel that navigating that ambiguity is one of our key jobs as designers.

Redesigning the graphic, I think it should look like this:

messydesign-963x417 copy

And this lines up well with a designer’s #1 job.

What is a Designer’s #1 Job?

ALL of design is a constant tension (good tension of course).  A designer does their best to learn about their users, and create a vision to solve that user’s problems.  And the entire process is just a non-stop dedication to bringing that vision to reality.

And that’s a designer’s #1 job.  To make vision come to reality.

If product managers have “product-market fit” to worry about, designers have “vision-process fit” to worry about.  This vision-process fit (this is a term I am coining btw), is matching a designer’s vision to the process (including tools and skills) that he/she uses.

So how do they make vision come to reality?

If product managers have “product-market fit” to worry about, designers have “vision-process fit” to worry about.  This vision-process fit (this is a term I am coining btw), is matching a designer’s vision to the process (including tools and skills) that he/she uses.

Creative Thinking Vs. Critical Thinking

Designers do 2 things really.  They create something AND then check to see if that thing they created is “good” or “not good”.

This constant back and forth between creating and evaluation, happens at ALL stages of the design process.

To create and evaluate, great designers end up developing 2 essential soft skills:

  1. Creative thinking skills
  2. Critical thinking skills

Through each stage of the design process (research, design and prototyping), a designer must be creative and critical.

In other words, it’s messy throughout – not just during research, but also during prototyping AND during design.

Some examples of Creative vs. Critical Thinking

Research Phase

Creative thinking activity:  Creating a topic map
Critical thinking activity:  Evaluating to see if the topic map is comprehensive.

Creative thinking activity: Brainstorming questions
Critical thinking activity:  Evaluating to see if the questions are well formed and the order is correct.

Creative thinking activity:  Interviewing users (yes, this is an art)
Critical thinking activity:  Analyzing the notes and discovering patterns from all interviews.

Creative thinking activity:  Creating the card sorting cards.
Critical thinking activity:  Having users group the cards and label the piles (open card sort).  Analyzing the results afterward.

Design Phase

Creative thinking activity:  Design Studio Method (designing solutions separately)
Critical thinking activity:  The converge phase in the design studio method (when designers come together and talk about what ideas worked or didnt)

Creative thinking activity:  Sketching
Critical thinking activity:  Getting feedback from others or self-evaluating to see if the sketch works or not (has all the requirements and solves user’s needs).

Creative thinking activity:  Wireframing
Critical thinking activity:  Getting feedback from others or self-evaluating to see if the wireframe works or not.

Prototyping

Creative thinking activity:  Building the prototype and the interactions
Critical thinking activity:  Getting feedback from others (usability testing) or self-evaluating to see if the prototype works or not.

It’s really really messy

As you can see, design is an ongoing process of making the unclear, more clear.  This requires 2 crucial soft skills: creative thinking and critical thinking.

And to be honest, I lied.  The graphic really needs a LOT more squiggly lines.  Here’s what the process really looks like:

verymessydesign-1024x444

For each method used in the design process, there is a squiggly followed by a straight line (lack of clarity, followed by clarity).

Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts?  Are all the phases of design equally messy or do you really think research is the messiest?  Leave your comments below!

Comments 1

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