Designers. Be descriptive, not directive

Josh Lee
Josh Lee
May 23, 2014 · 2 min read

My friend Ben is director. All too often Ben has a specific thing in mind for how he wants a certain shot to be presented. He'll spend hours telling everyone what he wants to see and how it should be framed. Now in the editing room he see’s that with all his communication and direction he failed to have a couple more things that would display the humanity of the scene. It’s going to eat at him for the rest of time because there is no way he can go back and reshoot, CGI would be too costly at this stage of the game. Ben just has to grin and bear it and hopefully be more alert to things he needs to direct better at.

But what if Ben had been descriptive rather than directive? I bet you he would have allowed for others to see things he couldn't and in doing so made room for them to add to the vision.

As designers we put a lot of heart and soul into what we do. We layout, measure, ask, research and ponder the meanings and nuances of the thing we are creating.

Once finished, we hand our creation off to an engineer to make. We can spec the crap out of it, clearly defining exactly how we want things to be. We can make the people around us feel as though we are bullying them, giving them no room to riff.

The designs and solutions I have been most proud of have always been the ones where I described what I was wanting and then let the engineers add to the mix. They will surprise you with the care they put into the experience, rather than disappoint you with their lack of creativity.

The main reason to be descriptive rather than directive is that you set the tone for valuing each others ideas rather than them having to value just your idea.

Although this can be applied to many areas, here’s what I've learned working as a product designer:

  • Solve for the problem at hand, don't try and kill everything in one blow.
  • Have an answer for why, not how.
  • Describe the feeling of what you want “it” to have, i.e. Tight, Loose, Snappy, Flawed, etc..
  • Be the most aggressive to your own assumptions.
  • You don't have to be right all the time.

I'll leave you with this quote from Dave Brubeck

There’s a way of playing safe, there’s a way of using tricks and there’s the way I like to play, which is dangerously, where you're going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven't created before.

    Josh Lee

    Written by

    Josh Lee

    Be less.

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