Agnostic designer, Dogmatic designer
Being balanced is hard work
Design is tricky.
It’s a creative field. But it’s a creativity that’s constrained by the need to make products that are good enough to fund the company underneath.
We need to make things people want to use and buy.
Figuring out how we deal with ideas is an important piece in the puzzle. Particularly ideas that differ from our own. Things that go against our gut. Or things we feel are inching towards unethical design practices.
This is as relevant in design as it is in life. After all, intolerance to differing ideas is a big part of what makes our history and present day violent and dark.
So when should we be rigid, and when flexible? Or, in other words, what should we be dogmatic about. And what should we be agnostic to?
In terms of religion, agnosticism is the view that the existence of God is unknowable. My definition of agnostic design is the view that the right design solution to a problem is unknowable and fleeting.
We can try our best based on the information we have, but there’s no science to it.
Methodology and process can get us closer, maybe. Trends come and go. Sometimes ideas we think are amazing turn out to be the worst ones. Or maybe they’re the best.
Hold strong opinions, loosely. This loose holding of our opinions is where agnosticism comes in. How would it change out design work if we stayed open to being convinced that another solution is better, as long as it makes more sense.
There isn’t enough evidence to ever be sure. We’ve got research, things we’ve learned, aesthetic and gut feelings. But until we go to market, it’s all an attempt to know something unknowable.
Even our strongest opinions are not objective truths. Just like belief in anything. This is precisely what differentiates the designer.
Everyone on the team can bring a balanced perspective. But it’s your job, as the designer, to have and maintain that perspective, for the good of the product.
Dogma is the set of non-negotiable principles, laid down by some authority—often a religious one. It’s usually a negative thing, so remember we’re in the danger zone.
Still, some things in design aren’t negotiable. Surrendering to destructive forces in our industry—whether so-called business needs, or hierarchy within the work setting—will lead to harmful results to your users.
Design principles are your dogma. You’re paid to uphold them. If there were a Hippocratic Oath for designers, this would be easier to define. But since ethics in design and technology is still under review until further notice, we’ll have to work with our human ability to tell right from wrong.
But it’s not all a crapshoot.
Design is often subjective, though not always. In many cases design can be objectively repulsive. It can offend you as a designer, because you’re sure it will offend/anger/frustrate/trick/confuse the people using your product.
Be dogmatic about accessibility, about fighting dark patterns, and about making products that aren’t addictive for a change. Spend time thinking about what ethical design is, and how you can work to deliver real benefit to people using your products.
When we’re not dogmatic about ethical and accessible design (real talk: we usually aren’t), we become complicit in Black Mirror-esque dystopian future.
Figure out your design dogma, and be fanatic fundamentalist about it.