Generalisation in Design

In design, I tend to hear a lot of tendency towards generalising ideas. Granted that much of it is done to make the process easier the next time but this results in a fallacy. Generalisation leads you to looking for a fast plug — a quick solution. But the counterintuitive thing here is that while you close the issue with the fast solution, you lose out on the broad picture and on the overbearing ramifications of that fast-fix design decision that emerge as you grow.

Instead, if you don’t focus on getting to the solution fast and rather linger with the problem, you get more time to think. You get more time to grasp the complexity and a bigger picture on how the problem plays out with your product. That gives your solution-finding process a time to mature — a time to consider all different solutions and understand the context better.

This is why using words such as — ‘never’, ‘everywhere’, ‘always’ is a bad practice when explaining your design process/solution. What works for your current problem is very contextual and relates only to the current problem in a very controlled set of conditions specific to the domain of your product (i.e. position of your product in its lifecycle, user-base, category of product — seasonal, daily use, push/pull etc, productivity, social etc). A new problem in future will require different thinking as by that time, you would have different number of users, different trajectory of product growth, different adoption numbers and different priorities.

Things are seldom black and white in design and even more so — there are no rules in design. There are best practices and guidelines. And any good designer you meet and talk to, will say that they’re just guidelines and not hard-written rules because there cannot be rules. Guidelines give us good starting points to come up with solutions but eventually it’s about thinking about the problem within the context and in the situation.

So when you start seeing patterns in your solutions as you go about designing products, remember that they start taking a shape of guidelines, and not rules. This will help you stay open-minded to new ideas, other processes and in general help cultivate a more absorptive approach to tackling problems. Performances and numbers in design are usually comparatively better or worse.

Focus on process and thinking, rather than jumping to a quick-fix. It pays off in you becoming a better designer over time and broadens the scope of product problems you can deal with.