Design and Value

Making a piece that looks good is a start, Making a piece that is valuable will get you to the finish line

I’m counting the days from now until my final semesters of graduate school start at Parsons the New School, one, two, twenty-six more days left until the program starts back up again. With that means thesis and job hunting following right behind. I twiddle my thumbs doing initial scans of companies with my early conclusions were simply… damn, this is a lot of senior positions, not many entry level stuff. I AM FU****.

But, what is the difference between a senior and a…designer?

Is the difference defined by one’s time or knowledge of the industry, connection to a company, education level, maybe even the skill of one’s craft, heck even their personality? This is an important question to ask especially because of the fluidity in the digital production industry and the curiosity of many other people in a similar position to myself. To answer this I tossed the question to friends in the design field with Kawandeep Virdee giving the best answer. He pointed me to a post by Julie Zhuo called junior Designers vs. Senior Designers, PERFECT! With a read through I was generally in agreement with one small Holy Heck moment from a simple statement.

Design is not about making pretty things for people.

“…shocking I know….”

Alright, I’ll let you take a deep breath … Dribblers and Behance users it is going to be ok. There are a few more points given but I want to focus on this key difference, Creating projects with value.

1. Something Pretty -vs- Something Valuable

So another vague answer…great…. What does it mean to be valuable?! To clarify, value is the worth of an experience, one that is both memorable and creates an emotional reaction. Emotions run the gambit from angry, fear, happiness, sadness, surprised, contempt, to name a few.

But why do I give a shit about emotions in my dribble app screen?

While creating something pretty is generally a good start and can pull people to your piece quickly, some easy problems arise. First, it is harder to create depth without a deeper purpose or point of context for users to connect too. Second, the industry is oversaturated with designers who are competent enough with sketch and photoshop to “fake it till you make it” or steal shamelessly… It’s ok, we do that too. As such many creatives and leaders in the industry need to bring something else to the table to stand out. I look towards emotions as an answer.

Do you feel the emotions yet? Remember me

Emotions are memorable and they stay with a person well beyond the actual interaction of a product, piece, or experience. I went to FITC earlier this year, one speaker @JohnnyCupcakes talked deeply on the subject with his own company, Johnny Cupcakes, a tee-shirt company who creates memorable experiences in all of his products. When buying a shirt, it may arrive with a random set of baseball cards inside, a creepy doll. The stores themselves occasionally smell like baked cupcakes to the name. If you come in early they might be selling a special breakfast shirt that comes with breakfast… Yummy.

In each case, the brand is driven by EXPERIENCES. More so those experiences are driven by the buyers EMOTIONS. They are memorable, leaving a strong enough connection to where people want to share this unique experience with others.

2. How do you make an emotion reaction?

“Try punching someone in the face.”

But really, There are quite a few ways as previously mentioned but the key part is trigger people’s emotions. If you ever watch a movie you know what are emotions are. The easiest way to target emotions are through a person’s sense’s, yes that old gem. Sight, Touch, Taste, Smell, and Sound. Each of these senses can be exploited in a your projects to garner emotional reactions from people.

All the senses can be targeted
“Can you really make senses or feelings like taste happen on a screen?”

Think of that classy polar bear coke commercial coming on in the winter times. Can you taste the cool flavors? Are your teeth biting the corner of your lips? All those feelings from a commercial that targets your emotional connection to your family to your sense of taste and hunger.

Within each sense, you can target unique emotions with a collection of methods. For example, you want to make a piece that causes people to feel surprised, or anxious. Make movements that is jittery, hide particular actions that need discovery, use moody colors. Within sounds think of rain, or silence to instill those emotions.

3. Getting Hired, Making Projects with Value

Looking ahead I know that it is tempting to go on Behance or dribble and start making pretty things. Let me tempt you with another idea. Start your next project idea like this, I want to make (project form) that makes people feel (Emotion), (Emotion), and (Emotion).

Project Planing….

By starting with a set of emotions you can pull from a vast closet of references beyond your current medium of choice: movies, posters, art pieces, dribble even the outside world all become viable references. From there determine what connects them all back to your chosen emotions. When you are user testing looking for these emotions is far easier to look for and gauging the quality of their responses. Lastly as previously mentioned it gives context for a user to connect with as well as leaving a stronger connection back to you project.

To make it clear, yes you can do both! Making something that is both atheistically pleasing and emotionally receptive is doable more so, it should be the primary outcome. However, by focusing on an emotional touchstone first it can allow a more valuable piece in the end.

  • David Utt is a Designer based in New York City + Graduate Student in the Design+Technology program at Parsons the New School
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