Designer’s Common Sense

Most of my friends are not designers. In their minds, a designer takes an ugly website and “prettifies” it. When I take the time to try and explain concepts of user experience to them, I mostly receive blank stares, usually followed by a soft mutter of “Well, that’s common sense.” It’s hard to come back from that, because in my mind, designers do practice common sense with every project we’re given. That is our single greatest weapon as we tackle any project. Regardless of the nature of the problem standing in our way, it is our job as designers to introduce a solution that is not only most efficient for our desired outcome, but also in a way that will delight the user. Achieving this takes creativity and a heavy dose of common sense.

But everyone has common sense, right? So why is it that there’s an entire profession based around the implementation of common sense on the web? Take, for example, an architect. An architect must use common sense when designing a building to make sure that each area is structurally sound to prevent collapse. An office worker must make sure the PowerPoint they’re working on is made in a way that commands the attention of the viewers. These actions all take common sense, along with the individual’s expertise in their field. As web designers, it is our job to implement common sense when we build websites in the form of user experience. With each website that we build, our understanding of user experience will undoubtedly increase to the point where principles start becoming ingrained in our thinking. These principles, only learnt after countless hours of hard work and thinking, become the pillars of common sense that we have in our arsenal.

The idea of common sense helps cut through the noise as web designers, where our industry is constantly changing. Technologies are introduced every day with new capabilities, frameworks, platforms, the list goes on. It is almost impossible to keep up with all these new technologies. Anyone would get stuck in a constant loop of information overload. If we take a step back and ask ourselves if it makes sense to spend the time to learn whatever’s new on the market, we may save ourselves a massive amount of time, which is the most sacred of resources we have today. Learning a new platform, framework, or tool just for the sake of knowing it is not inherently useful. We must have a goal in mind that we wish to accomplish using this new technology. Testing the benefits (or non-benefits) of implementing a new piece of technology against our common sense provides a clear way to discern this usefulness.

Therefore, the idea of common sense being the cornerstone of our profession is correct, but we have to realize that common sense is ever-changing. It changes with an individual’s expertise in their field, and their breadth of knowledge that turns experimental ideas into principles. As our repertoire of common sense grows and we’re able to easily craft websites and apps with sound fundamentals of user experience, then we’re able to look ahead. To see the next evolutionary wave of technologies and how websites should be built years or decades from now. That’s when we develop vision, all based on hard-earned common sense.

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