“Anyone can design”

My tension between “Design” and “design”

This is an email I sent to our team at Heist. I added the image because I thought it was hilarious but otherwise it’s verbatim. It’s sparked some good conversation on our team about ego, identity and expertise. I’d love to hear your feelings on it.

Hey peeps—

Something that I’ve struggled with is how to rectify the idea of “everyone is a designer” or “anyone can design” with the experience, training and skill set I’ve gained as a designer. It’s always made me wince when I hear it even though it’s a phrase often coming from top design firms in the world.

The attitude I used to roll in with.

Like WTF? I went to school to become a designer, worked hard in the industry, only to have my skill set and title commoditized, available to anyone who wants it? Can I just call myself a doctor? A lawyer? An engineer? I know how to make hot-shit design that people will love, those who aren’t designers don’t. Put me with a developer and we can make an app that will change the world. Fuck you “anyone can design”.

Then I worked on a web app that had real people using and making it. It had scale and complexity. I quickly learned that simply designing sexy form fields did not a good experience make. I’d present it, the client would ask for some changes that made it less sexy (of course), then send it to the dev team only to learn that logins are processed through an iframe and a relay through a series of servers that were from the set of Office Space. I’d get frustrated, rant to the other designers, give up on my design, stop caring and use default form fields and move on to another component that I could really sexify.

It ended up creating a not-so-great experience for customers and a process that made me lose too much sleep. I learned the hard way that design is a team sport. You need everyone on your team bought-in and knowing the play in order to build great products and services. Whenever I got frustrated or angry and pulled away from the team, I lost and the end experience suffered. What I needed to do was take an active role in driving the process and be open to other solutions. When a feature got pulled or we hit a roadblock, I should’ve documented the ideal solution, shared it with the team, got a developer and product owner in a room and figured out a new login field design. Draw up a new plan.

It can be frustrating to constantly hit roadblocks but great designers don’t just know how to design well, they know how to drive and teach a team of people to make awesome experiences together. You have to keep your focus fixed on the outcome for customers and the journey getting there, not just your solution. We can help chose the next step and raise a flag when we see something that will lead a team off course later on. (Warning: sports analogy) We have to be Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. Shoot the ‘j’, pass the ball and draw up the play. We need highly talented designers on our teams to set the bar and guide the process for others.

When someone says “anyone can design” it doesn’t mean everyone mocks up shit-hot interfaces, it means everyone has to play a part in making someone smile when they hang up the phone after a calling support agent. I would enthusiastically spout the theory of “design is how it works” and “holistic design” but not understand that in order to do that, everyone on the team needs to think like a designer. They have to care how their slice impacts the perception, communication and consumption. Whether it’s the script a call centre agent uses or the CSS in the navigation or the database entry relationships, everyone has to be focused on how that impacts the customer and helps make the experience better. Everyone has to design.

I’m still adjusting my brain to not wince when I hear “design” used in non-visual-UX-interaction way, I think it just takes time. Giving up ownership of the word gives other team members a sense of investment in making the right solution. You can’t get around it, you need killer teams to make, maintain and evolve great products and services. We have to show our maturity and thrive when we hit roadblocks to give teams the tools to solve real problems. That’s how we turn everyone into a designer.

I didn’t intend for this to go on this long but this rant was prompted on by this bit in the David Kelley Creative Morning Q&A:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgPMfnXrNrQ#t=343

Would love to hear what you guys think. Cheers,

Nathan

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