The Day You Became
A Better Designer

by Tobias van Schneider
first appeared
on my private email list.


I received a lot of feedback on my articles recently. (big thank you for that!) While some appreciate the wide & weird range of topics, some ask me why I don’t write about real design topics. Such as, “How to solve UX problem XYZ” or “How to build the perfect responsive website”. A valid question.

When I write, I mostly write for myself. And since I don’t like to lie, neither to you nor myself, I promise to always be a 100% honest.

The reason I don’t talk about UX problems or how to set up a perfect grid is because I believe it is boring. While tools and techniques matter, they don’t make you a better designer when looking at the bigger picture.

As far as I remember, I’ve never read any books about design. I don’t follow design blogs and rarely read design magazines.

This is just my personal preference, but it’s rooted in the
belief that neither me nor anyone else has figured it out anyway.

I do admit that I sometimes miss out on the latest trends in web design, and my repertoire of keyboard shortcuts could be bigger.

For me, trying to be a better designer means trying to be a better human being, as cheesy as it sounds. Every designer, from advertising to product deals with a different set of problems. But in the end, each designer caters to us humans, regardless of what problem we are trying to solve.

The day I became a better designer was the day I started looking outside the design industry for inspiration. It was the day I started reading books about philosophy, psychology, art or science.

It was the day I stopped hanging out with only designers every day and started making more friends in other industries. I started to make sure that in whatever office I sit, I have someone sitting next to me who is NOT a designer.

In psychology & cognitive science there is something called the “confirmation bias”. What it means is that we love to agree with people who agree with us. We tend to hang out with people who hold similar beliefs and make us feel comfortable.

We as designers are especially drawn to the confirmation bias. We are proud to hold strong opinions and therefore strive for internal consistency by seeking confirmation from our peers.

The issue with this is that we, as designers, create a bubble for ourselves.
We visit the same conferences with only designers speaking & attending. We read magazines & books, from and for designers, and we tend to only hang out with other designers in perfect isolation.

Our view narrows as we limit our field. Only interacting with other designers we avoid ideas or beliefs contradictory to our own. While it makes us feel comfortable & protected, it can also be an inspirational trap.

Shouldn’t we, especially designers be the ones most curious & open about other topics & fields rather than cutting us off? Shouldn’t we be the ones connecting the dots that others might not be able to connect? — Afterall we call us designers who design products & services for others, often thousands or even millions.

By immersing ourselves in different perspectives, we can draw a much richer and more balanced picture. Which in result, enhances our work.

For example, let’s take the best communication designers who come up with covers for The New Yorker or Bloomberg Businessweek.

They are great not because of their craft, but because they immerse themselves in topics such as politics & culture. They collect & connect the dots outside of their field of expertise. Design as a craft just provides them the tools and frameworks to make sense of the information

And I’m not talking about simple research before each project, it is part of who they are. They are as much communicators as much as they are designers.

You can apply the same to any other design field.

And as Walt Whitman already said: Be curious, not judgmental. Endless curiosity & openness is one of the most important traits of a great designer.

And this, is why I love hanging out with non-designers. Or with anyone who challenges my beliefs, disagrees with me and offers new perspectives. This is where personal growth is happening, which translates in my ability as a well-rounded designer & human being.

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I hope you enjoyed the read. I tried re-writing and changing this piece so many times and ended up keeping it short & snappy. I like to see it more as a conversation starter which you hopefully participate on Twitter.

Yours truly,
Tobias

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The title of this email was inspired by a fantastic article by Scott Adam who wrote a piece called “The Day You Became A Better Writer”. A quick but highly recommended read.

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If you enjoyed reading this article, I would appreciate
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Tobias a Product Design Lead & Art Director at Spotify NYC. Founder of many other things and member of the Board of Directors at AIGA New York www.vanschneider.com