The Magic in Design

The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. (Steve Jobs)

Contrary to popular belief, the most exciting part of a modern designer’s day isn’t always about creating awe-inspiring works of art on a 5 inch screen. While any designer worth their money will have a certain love for all things beautiful, that is certainly not the most fulfilling part of the job description. Design, more than anything is about connecting with people in the most amazing ways.

A couple of days ago, I came across a Ted Talk by Brian Miller on How to Magically Connect with Anyone. In his talk, Brian spoke about his career as a magician, and how illusionists like him take the time to understand their audience to deliver an amazing experience of magic. As a designer, I couldn’t stop thinking about how it all closely resembles what we strive to achieve with our designs.

Perspective Taking

Brian talked about how he employs a technique called “Perspective Taking” in magic. Since the magician is the only person who knows the trick for what it really is, he cannot experience the magic first hand. So he must put himself in the shoes of his audience and use their perspective to create an exciting experience for them.

As designers, we do this every time we work on a new project. We pretend to be teenagers, bankers, musicians, truck drivers, people of the opposite gender and sometimes even little children to experience our design first hand. We use empathy to create seamless experiences that allows design to fade away as users almost magically flow through without ever having to consciously think about the next steps.

Getting to know people

A design can be an aesthetic masterpiece, but if it doesn’t fit the audience’s needs, it might as well just be a wall hanging.

Brian mentioned how everyone of us experiences the world in a different way and how every incident in our past has shaped the way we perceive the world around us. This means that to truly create a meaningful experience for someone, we must get to know them.

Great design means taking the time to know your audience. Understand what they need from your product, and deliver exactly that. Good designers painstakingly work through the process of user research, and are not afraid to ask questions. They seek out potential users and dig up everything that could help them create a more tailored experience for them. They use this knowledge to deliver a design that makes the user feel understood.

Using Cues

As magicians use simple hand movements and gestures to grasp and divert their audience’s attention when and how they want, designers use simple visual cues to seamlessly guide the user’s eye through content. They help the user subconsciously navigate to exactly what they need to achieve.

Varying color, alternating shadows, slightly breaking the grid to get the user’s attention are just some of the visual tricks a designer can use to whisper the user’s eye to exactly where they want it. Great designers know how to effectively use their arsenal of design elements as visual cues to eliminate friction and subtly guide their users through to a meaningful experience.

Design, like magic, is a performing art. It takes countless hours of strutting over the tiniest details to bring the act to perfection. But unlike any other performance, we affect our audience in their everyday lives. We define how people experience every part of their day from the simplest things like setting their morning alarm to critical tasks like managing payroll at their company. And our applause is when our work becomes invisible, and people can magically flow through our work never having to stop and think about what to do next.

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