David Friedmann
Oct 10 · 4 min read

This is the second blog post in my series about interning at an experience design agency. You can find part one, “The Road to Digital; An industrial design student’s perspective,” here.

Massimo Vignelli was a legendary modernist designer who worked across industrial, graphic and architectural design. He once famously said:

“Good design…starts by looking at the problem and collecting all the available information about it. If you understand the problem, you have the solution.”

Notice that even though Vignelli worked across various industries and design mediums, he describes a problem-first approach as the key to “good design,” not good graphic, industrial or architectural design, but simply good design.

The fundamental principles that form good design are the same regardless of the medium the solutions are created in. As part of any accredited design degree, students are taught to approach problems by empathising with the users affected by them and understanding how to provide appropriate solutions.

The switch to digital does not mean starting from square one. The same process that user-centred designers have been practicing will carry over, albeit tailored to this new medium whose solutions use pixels in place of nuts and bolts.

Taking stock

As a result, the key knowledge gaps lie in the technical experience and terminology associated with designing digital products. During a product design degree, students’ practice model making with various grades of foam, which allows them to better communicate their ideas and discover effective solutions for creating common components such as handles.

In the same vein, digital product designers gain experience designing common module types such as carousels, which allows them to more quickly create effective carousels during new projects, by drawing on their knowledge of what worked well in the past.

Notice how the most valuable skills are not learning how to work with a specific material or design tool, but rather the knowledge of what design attributes work well for different component types and scenarios.

Now we’ve established what knowledge can be transferred from other design mediums and the specific knowledge designers will need for digital.

So, what next?

In order to start the road to digital, designers work needs to be framed from the perspective of a digital experience designer, so it is clear how the transferrable user-centred design process can be used to solve any design challenge, regardless of medium.

Translating the experience design process

The process below outlines a high-level example of what a user-centred design process might be, in reality these processes can be more complex, with variations between organisations and even individual projects — making it very difficult to detail one definitive journey.

· Discovery through research and insights

· Interpreting the business drivers

· Analysing the existing product landscape

· Ideation and concept generation

· Design detailing and refinement

· Testing and validation

As you can see, the experience design process shares many similarities with other mediums of product design, and it’s very likely industrial or product design students will have already been through a variant of this process at some point.

Rather than key differences in the approach to solving the users problems, the distinctions in this process lie in the technical skills and understanding of the medium at each stage. For example, during design detailing and refinement, industrial designers might create a CAD model with small fillets and tooling marks to show how a product might be manufactured.

In order to do this, they will apply the knowledge they have about manufacturing processes and durability to achieve the desired result.

The equivalent to this for a digital designer could be using their knowledge of link language and colour to ensure that users know what elements they can interact with on a webpage and which are static.

Lastly, it is important to note that it is very rare the this process is undertaken in a linear fashion. More often than not, designers need to revisit parts of the process in response to client feedback or unforeseen design issues, particularly when reaching the testing and validation stages.

Filling the gaps in our digital vocabulary

It is well know that details are what is most commonly lost in translation and knowledge of digital design attributes are just that, details.

When people learn languages in a classroom, there comes a point where they have all the required knowledge to communicate but aren’t fluent and find it hard to hold a conversation. The best proven way to fix this is by speaking with native speakers as much as possible and allowing your skills to develop through practice.

The same applies here, finding experts and working through digital projects is the quickest way to pick up the missing details that are lost in the physical to digital translation. Remember, the principles of good, user-centred design transcend any one medium and understanding this is the key for designers starting their road to digital.


ELSE is an Experience Design Consultancy helping businesses create transformative product and service opportunities. We work with business leaders on innovation and digital transformation projects — from large multinationals to lean start-ups.

David Friedmann

Written by

An experience designer crafting digital products focused on economic, social and environmental sustainability. @elselondon



ELSE is an Experience Design Consultancy helping businesses create transformative product and service opportunities. We work with business leaders on innovation and digital transformation projects — from large multinationals to lean start-ups.

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