Daddy, What Do Designers Do?
My daughters have reached that breakthrough age where we can have real, satisfying conversations. I ask them about their day and they tell me stories with incredible detail about their new friend on the playground or something funny that happened in school. These conversations are the highlight of my day. Just the other day, my oldest turned the question on me and asked me what I did all day while she was at school.
And, there I was, somewhat stumped. I realized that saying I went to a client meeting or I worked for hours on an interface for a website would have no meaning to her. I really wanted my daughters to know what I do and why I do it. So, I decided I’d show them what I do as a designer.
- I create optimal experiences. The next morning, I gave them a fork with their cereal instead of spoon. They looked at me funny — and cautiously started to eat watching the milk drip from their forks. We talked about how you could still eat the cereal but that the experience isn’t as good as it is with a spoon. I explained that as a designer, I always have to make sure that people have the best experience. Each project I work on is a series of experiences that roll up into one overall experience.
- I minimize frustration. My youngest daughter is starting to learn to write in school. When she practices at home, pressing hard on the page, her pencil tip often breaks. It slows her down because she has to stop and sharpen the pencil or find another one. I watch as she perseveres. One night, when she finished up her writing practice, I asked her how she feels when her pencil breaks and she said “frustrated!” As a designer, we never want the people who interact with our designs to be frustrated — whether it’s a website or a mobile app — the most important thing is that people feel that they are in control. They need to know know how to get the information quickly or do what they want efficiently — without going down dark, frustrating holes.
- I match expectations. The next day on my quest to show my daughters what I do all day, I bring them to a sink and ask them how they would turn on the water. They look at me with their adorable, perplexed faces, that say, “Daddy, you know we know how to turn on a sink!” — and to prove it, they each grabbed a faucet handle and the water came out. We talked about how confused and concerned we’d be if the water didn’t come out. Designers make sure that things function the way people expect them to function. Everyone that uses any kind of digital device has a set of expectations — and these expectations change over time with new technologies and standards. It’s my job to stay plugged into user and consumer expectations to make sure that every design performs the way people expect…or even better.
- I make things work with ease. I showed my oldest daughter one of her favorite game apps and asked where she would touch the screen. She immediately pointed to the letter “H.” I asked her how she knew this and she said, “that’s just how you spell HEN!” She didn’t need any instructions, she just knew what to do. The best designs need no explanation or directions — they should work easily and require no extra thought from the user.
- I create appeal. After school the other day, I showed them two cupcakes and asked which they’d prefer. Of course, they both chose the chocolate cupcake with the pink frosting. I asked them why and one said she liked chocolate, and the other said her favorite color is pink. I told her that I’d choose the blueberry muffin “cupcake” because I don’t like frosting. We all agreed that we all like something different. As a designer, it’s so important to remember that each person is an individual with unique preferences. That’s why it’s so important to get to know each audience and what they like. Creating a design that appeals to the right audience is the key to a successful design.
I had so much fun going through this little exercise with my daughters. For them, I think they understand a little more of what their daddy does all day. For me, it was a reminder of all the thought and work that goes into creating effortless, appealing experiences — which is exactly what I love about design.