Designers: it’s not all about you

The responsibility for great designs is shared

A quick exercise

The first line of an article is supposed to capture the reader so that he reads until the comments section. I’ll engage in no such trickery.

In fact, I’d like you to unstick your eyes from the screen; take a look around you.

Seriously, go ahead.

What do you see? Take a mental inventory.

(Still reading? Sorry — I might’ve engaged in some trickery).

How many of the things around you are completely natural? That is, objects completely unaltered by mankind, presenting themselves to you in their truest form.

I’m willing to bet there are very few. As you sit on your chair, peering through your windowsill, perhaps you see some shrubbery. But that experience is framed by the man-made structures that we humans have put in place.

Consider this for a moment: you could go an entire day without interacting with something purely natural.

In other words, you are beholden to living your life according to the objects that your Homo sapiens peers have constructed for you.

All of those man-made objects had to be designed. And when you consider the sheer amount of time we spend interacting with these man-made things, you would rightly raise some questions about their creators.

Who designed all this shit, and why did they design it this way?

It is not a new idea in the design world that designers have a great responsibility to serve the people who ultimately use their designs. And I fully agree with that notion.

However, I think the relationship between designer and user can and should go deeper. It should not be a one-way street, with the designer having to take on a sort of Sherlock Holmes demeanor to sniff user desires and needs.

Shouldn’t we all have a role to play in this?

Ideally, the dialogue between designer and user would be ongoing, not relegated to formalized interviews, surveys and usability tests.

When we can create an open dialogue about the design of not only the latest and greatest app, but also our every day items, there will be more happiness and less frustration in life.

For deep psychological reasons I’ll discuss in a moment, I don’t believe this statement is hyperbolic.

The problem is that the user feels like she can’t make a difference, just as many of us feel during a general election (you should vote, by the way).

It starts with companies and designers telling users that their feedback is welcome. And it works when users feel that their ideas count.

The Designer

Designers create things for other people. And most good designers get that.

Yet, even the best designers can often get lost creating things for themselves. It turns out that they can’t help it.

I recently had the pleasure of listening the Irene Au deliver a speech at UX Week 2016 titled Design and the Self. (Watch the video here or read the Medium article here.)

The crux of Au’s thoughts are this:

What we make embodies our values and virtues, and becomes a tangible expression of our Self…Design is the culmination of intention, values, and principles manifested in tangible form and passed on to another.

Thus, she argues, if our designs are an expression of ourselves, then we should work on becoming better people in order to make better designs.

I can get behind that. Given my understanding of psychology, I can confirm that any sort of work that we do is an expression of our beliefs, even if we don’t mean it to be.

It’s just one of those human things: our biases are always at work.

Further, I once again say amen to the thought that other people’s work influences us. It does. And if someone says it doesn’t, then they’re lying.

As with the above, it’s just one of those human things: you’re unconsciously taking in your surroundings.

Now let’s also consider that top-tier designers are designing things for millions and sometimes billions of people.

So, if designers can’t help but create things that are reflections of themselves, they can’t help but be influenced by other designers’ work and they design for the masses, what does that mean for creating a better dialogue between them and who they’re designing for?

1. Designers are like politicians, and should act like them

Politicians and designers serve a similar purpose: they help solve problems for the masses. The difference is simply their means.

Politicians change laws, designers change their designs (on average 21.2 times).

Thus, designers need to pander to the masses that they serve.

I’m not saying that they need to all of a sudden be public figures, and I’m certainly not saying that they should occasionally engage in sexual relations with that woman.

What I am saying is that designers need to let their users know that they are there as an outlet for frustrations and suggestions.

Come out of hiding and show your face — be the point of contact for the company. Make your “Here’s Johnny” moment, except maybe take it a little easier than Jack did.

And lastly, acknowledge a user’s ideas. Even if you aren’t going to use them. As designers know all too well, it feels amazing when someone else takes your idea seriously.

2. Be the user

Empathy is a central tenet to the human-centered design philosophy. But, as hard as we try, humans are inherently self-centered.

Sorry, that’s just an evolutionary by-product.

What I propose, then, is a new take on an old approach: be the user.

I’m not talking about building the typical user persona. No, we need to go a bit further than that. Don’t just read your user’s motivations, act them out.

That’s right, designers should pretend that they are their users while designing. I know it sounds silly, but I think it will work.

So, if the designer can get the user more involved in the design process and figuratively take on their character, that’s merely a one sided affair.

We’re in America, and we love equality. What’s the user gonna do to reciprocate?

The Designë

Well first of all, let’s stop calling them users. There’s a lot of bad connotations with that word — it’s not very human, it makes me think of drug addicts and it’s just outdated.

I want to call users designës. I completely made this word up. (And yes, I did do some research as to what type of accent I should put over the “e.” Whatever.)

I’m going out on a limb here.

But doesn’t designë feel more special and unique? Plus, it’s a derivative of “designer,” a subtle cue to the stronger relationship I think the two should forge.

Let me define it:

/dəˈzīn ē/ (“Design-ee”)
A person who is the recipient of a design, typically in a passive fashion.

You noticed that little caveat on the end of the definition, didn’t you? “Typically in a passive fashion…”

Designës don’t feel like they have much power. That’s me included.

We sit back and wait for a design to fall into our hands, then get pissed when it doesn’t work for us. We’re like that drunk sports fan — fully belligerent and undoubtedly can’t be heard by the person the expletives are aimed at.

So, let’s take that a step further and be involved in the design process. With designers now pandering to us for our thoughts, let’s give ‘em to ’em.

What can we do, specifically?

1. Be proactive

Don’t think that your comments in the comment section aren’t worth anything. More often than not, designers are grateful for the feedback.

Don’t just sit back and accept things. Raise a little hell, if you have to!

The only way that we can get more companies on-board with a truly human-centered ideology is if you make it known that you care.

2. Let’s create a forum

When you fill in those forms on a company’s website, or send a message to customer service, only you and the company know exactly what was said.

It would be a lot easier to get some momentum behind ideas for good design if designës had a central forum to discuss such matters.

Existing social media is an ok place for that, but there’s too much clutter for the discussion to be focused.

Imagine a site where all major companies had a sub-page that listed their products. You would be able to go into a thread about each product, see what others are saying, and give some upvotes to others’ ideas or post your own.

I’m not gonna make this page, but someone should. Then again, I might get bored one day, so who knows.

The New Dynamic = Designer + Designë

Great design doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. It requires the collaboration between both designers and designës.

As a designer myself, I know my peers are always looking for feedback. The hard part is getting designës to care.

With a little effort on both of our parts, just like the marriage counselor always suggests, I think we can take this relationship to the next level.

If you liked this article, please click the little green heart below — it don’t cost nothin’!

My name is Spencer Ivey. I’m pursuing a career as a UX designer and I just happen to love writing. Please check out my website! Peace and blessings.

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