The Accidental Insight Phenomenon


I am a designer of things both web and print and client work can be a challenging task, especially with those that are not educated on proper communication with designers. And while I believe it to be part of the designers job to help bring the client to the, as Jared M. Spool would put it, “target knowledge” level, the lack of proper education in both clients and those around you when you work can be used to your advantage.

The Phenomenon

The phenomena I am deeming “Accidental Insight” can be summarized in — “the ideas generated from accidental critique on a work that lead to further development or improvement on said work”.

Perspective is the ideal behind the insight. The insight is gained by accident from the remarks of colleagues. What I usually sum these remarks to be is a general nervous behavior that they can have around designers. You may be the first designer or artist that the client(s) has worked with before and it seems to be a common trait with colleagues trying to maintain a healthy business relationship to tend to give their comments, mostly in support, of your work. However, the ignorance, and I do not use that in a derogatory sense, of these colleagues leaves them unaware of how to give proper support or feedback towards your work.

A coworker could be walking by your office and say excitedly, “Oh hey, that looks like a cool abstract dolphin” when in reality it could be a water droplet icon to be used in the current branding project but is now starting to closely resemble the tear in your eye.

The point of their comment was to try and support your work as best they can but instead could now be used to take a step back and really assess the design to gain some outside perspective. You have gained insight from an event that was in no way meant to give you a revelation on both your design and your possibly amazing but ultimately useless dolphin drawing skills.

The second most prominent case I have experienced this in is the early brainstorming stage. This usually occurs when you feel like you’ve hit a wall on this design and just can’t seem to formulate any great ideas. Your cheery coworker comes over to you scowling at the wall hoping a nail will bust out, hit you in the face, and strike you with divine inspiration. Being the polite and helpful person they are, they inquire about your intense concentration on the wall as if you were trying to develop telekinetic powers. Chances are you begrudgingly told them about what the boss handed down to you and how much of a creative dilemma it’s causing you all the while thinking, “Why am I bothering to tell them this? What could they possibly say to help me, The Golden God. I am untethered and my creativity knows no bounds” . As you are reliving your triumphs of high school as Dennis Reynolds, your coworker has continued talking to you in your coma-like nostalgia trip trying to figure out what the project is all about. “Boss said he was looking for something to do with water and that he wants me to make it small so he can ask me to make it bigger” you say. As you begin to drift back off your coworker blurts out, “You mean like, waves and stuff?” That’s it! Waves and stuff! You knew you would come up with it.

But wait, you didn’t come up with it. Your design-ignorant coworker just mentioned the first thing off her head when you introduced your problem and it was the perfect solution to your problem. This seemingly random sequence of events has just accidentally given you the perfect insight you needed to make a kick-ass design.

Understanding that the “kids-say-the-darndest-things” effect can work with colleagues and designers helps us remember to absorb all the feedback we can, even when it is from the least likely person to inspire you. Unless it’s from Jane in Accounting. Nobody likes Jane in Accounting.