Creating a Healthy Space for Design

The ingredients for an environment where design and user experience thrive consist of a few key items. First off, a shared sense of sympathy, if not empathy, for those who are different from you is critical. When two worlds collide, as is the case whenever two people interact with one another, design is the bridge that supports the interaction. To build strong bridges you need to understand that we are all different and that accommodations are often necessary.

Along these lines, it’s important to create a space where people have the opportunity to discover and investigate connections. Sometimes we call this inspiration, but what’s happening here is that we see a quality in one item that translates well to helping further the cause of another. We see a color on a dress that would work well in a logo. Or we see an animation in a title-sequence what would be effective in a user interface. Finding and applying these connections are a large part of a designer’s toolkit and an environment should support the designer to that end.

It’s important to give designers license to experiment, but it’s also important to give them constraints. Usually we see this manifest as “budget” or “deadlines” — but constraints come in many sizes and shapes. Whether it’s a technical requirement or a human factors driven consideration, healthy design spaces pay careful attention to the constraints of their goal.

When looking at what makes for healthy design environments, considering what inhibits those spaces is also important. It goes beyond identifying the opposite of the items listed above. Conventions can work to both improve the process uses, but they can also lead to lazy thinking. By becoming too focused on efficiency, conventions can become a real liability to the design process.

Designers depend on two things — the existence of a problem to solve and resources needed to solve that problem.

Teams that operate in silos can also inhibit the design health of an organization. Designers depend on two things — the existence of a problem to solve and resources needed to solve that problem. Because silos reduce discussion and awareness about the nature of the problem to solve, they can be damaging. When placed in a vacuum, design dies from a lack of oxygen.

Silos come about for various reasons. Sometimes it’s a geographical separation that creates the communication break-down. Other times it’s the personalities of the team members (in groups that are mostly introverts, for example). Politics can also play a role in the breakdown of communication. When there’s a concern that the sharing of knowledge will hamper someone’s ability to advance their career, they are less likely to share.

By fostering the attributes of healthy design environments and discouraging those which do harm, organizations give themselves the best possible shot at creating products and services that a loved and valued.