Reflection 3: A Few Pitfalls for Design Students

Pitfall 4: When judge a design from a user’s perspective, we tend to value needs more than desires.

1.Avoid the real work.

“A good chief become excellent no by only talking about the idea of his recipes but by knowing well of ingredients, seasonings, heat and other cooking elements through practice.”

When I am asked to define myself as a designer, I tend to describe myself as a “big picture thinker” rather than a creative designer. During a design project, I am usually better at narrowing down the problem space, finding the design core and making design judgments, instead of generating ideas and polishing design details. On one hand, this design tendency helps me to focus on getting the “right design” — the real problem. But on the other hand, it gives me an excuse to overlook the details of designs and escape from the responsibility of committing time to getting the “design right” — thoughtful design details. Nevertheless, the talking from one of the alumni tore this self-delusion: a big idea cannot stand on its own without thoughtful details. A good designer is valued for the ability to implement a good design in every detail. As a junior designer, improving and polishing my basic design skills(visual skill, wire-framing skill, etc.) is not less important as other soft skills(communication skill, leadership, business thinking skills and so on).

Solution: On a daily basis, collect a good visual/interaction design or learn a new trick of my design tools(Sketch, Photoshop, Illustration, etc.)

2.Back up an old idea when other decisions have been made.

Sometimes during our design team discussion, time is wasted for arguing whether we should go back to another choice. It’s almost an instinct when I come into a dilemma with plan A, I am inclined to seek help from earlier plan B instead of intentionally pushing the boundary of plan A, even though plan B had been voted out yesterday. Especially when plan B is my own idea. But as a team member, being respectful to teamwork and stick to team choice is our responsibility. If I didn’t give a strong rationale to my own idea and voted to other choices somehow, no matter how many potentials I think my idea has, all I should do is to let it go and commit myself to a team choice.

3.Design only for needs, instead of desires.

“Our understanding of motivation, triggered by what we believe to be desirable, as opposed to what we need, remains remarkably undeveloped.”

This quote from The Design Way written by Nelson and Stolterman is very inspiring to me. It reminds me of a design principle which is very easy to be overlooked: Design for desires, not only for needs.

During a class practice about design quality, we were asked to find good designs and bag designs, and give the reason why we choose them. The approach I took is not to find the good or bad design intentionally(searching on the internet). Instead, I just let the designs run into me in daily life. In this more intuitive process, I found all the bad design earlier than good designs. Therefore, I came to the conclusion that due to their deadly mistake in user experience, bad designs are more recognizable than good designs. However, one of my classmates had reverse insight. She found all the good design first and then bad designs. She thinks it’s hard to define a design as bad design because different people in a product circle (users, developers, managers, stakeholders, government, etc.) value different aspects of a design. A bad design to users may be a good design to the government.

This helped me to realize one difference between our approaches. I judged the design from a user’s perspective while she judged a design from a designer’s perspective which is more holistic. There is a flaw of designing from a user’ view: You find a design opportunity when you experience a problem. For instance, I found the indication light of the stove is not clear, so I design a new indication solution. In this case, I am designing for the need of change — the negative reactive described by Stolterman. However, If we already know what we will design from the beginning(we experienced the problem), it’s more like a problem-solving work than a design project because design is for an expandable situation. On the contrary, sometimes it’s not until we meet a design we are aware of our desire. For example, users wouldn’t imagine how elegant and convenient it could be to operate a cell phone until iPhone came to market. In these scenarios, good design comes from desires rather than needs. This requires intentional hard work after failures and failures, but it’s the essence of design value: create wonderful things that don’t exist before.

As a designer, stay away from laziness and inertia. Explore human desires intentionally.

4.Seek for a perfect design process.

Recently, I am struggling for redesigning my portfolio. In order to tell a better story of the design process, I even created a process template and try to impose it on my projects. However, a talk with my professor made me realize how silly this idea is: What employers seek for from designers is not a perfect design process but your ability to survive through the design swamp. What would you do when faced with setbacks and mess? What would you do when the manager or developer say no to your design? Being honest about the ups and downs in a design process and showing how I collaborated with others to get through them is a better way to demonstrate my design ability and philosophy.

Special thanks to Diandian Cao who gave me the inspiration.

If you have any question or suggestion, please reach out via email: doutian@iu.edu

More about my work at www.iamdoutian.com