A Designer’s Guide to Creating Digital Products That Inspire
Linkin Park blared from my speakers on a cold rainy day in Mussoorie, a tiny hill station in North India. I had just newly downloaded their songs off LimeWire and was sitting starry-eyed, amazed by the power of the computer. Granted, it was just a few songs, but unbeknownst to me, it was the beginning of my who I am today.
This was back in 2006. My Dad had just got us our first family PC with Intel Pentium Inside. It started with downloading music and learning new things on Wikipedia. This soon turned into learning how to code so I could recreate my favourite websites. Burning CDs so I could watch movies with friends. Jailbreaking an iPhone to understand how it functions.
Computers were an endless ocean of wonders and curiosity was my ship to explore the endless wonders of the world. Looking back, I now recognise that period was intensely magical. I fell in love with technology.
I realise now, this is why I became a designer. I loved the feeling this tech invoked in me. The feeling of magic and endless curiosity. Deconstructing problems and reconfiguring them. Design lets me do all of that.
However, there also existed technology that did nothing for me — I was indifferent to a lot of it too.
What was is it that some things made me feel a sense of magic and others didn’t?
I wondered what I can add to my craft, to my process to create products that make others feel this way. I’ve tried to deconstruct what we as designers can do to create magic, make the human at the end of your designs feel like I did back then.
1. Start your process with the feeling
When you start designing with the feeling you want to invoke, you work towards it with focus. The solution becomes clearer along the way, but that feeling remains constant.
The design process remains the same. You research, understand what makes people feel this way. You create prototypes hoping to catch that glimpse of joy in the eyes of the people using it. And you do it again, and again till you have something that does exactly that.
2. Nurture crazy ideas
It is easy to be rational when coming up with ideas. To pick ideas that are rooted in reality. Magic doesn’t emerge from rationality. Go wild. Think of things that haven’t been imagined yet. Build on each other’s ideas. Say “yes, and… “ instead of “but..”. Only stop when you have ideas crazy enough they might work. Ideas that give you a glimpse into your own future. Ideas that give you goosebumps. Nurture those ideas, and make that imaginary future a reality.
These things don’t happen in a silo either. Think with people who think differently. People who build on each other and let the quietest voices be heard, because chances are, that’s where the best ideas are hiding. Speaking of the future, though…
3. Futurism coupled with simplicity
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” — Arthur Clarke
We’ve all heard this quote before, and it still holds up. Technology that is within your grasp yet mysterious always feels mystical.
That is only the first step, though. Advanced technology by itself isn’t enough to wow people. It is only when they can use it, feel it within their grasp, see how simple it all is — that is when the joy comes rushing in. You don’t have to look farther than Apple or Nintendo.
The Wii remote was cutting-edge technology when it released, and it was an instant hit. My parents, who have never played virtual games played along, feeling like they were back in their teens. All because it was approachable and easy.
4. Make it useful
You might have noticed something common in the examples I mentioned. Everything that seems magical is also useful (or as the business people put it — desirable). Whether that use is entertainment, communication, or something else.
When something is useful, usable, and magical — that is the golden trio. Making something desirable is a given when you are a designer, and it involves truly understanding the needs of people who you are making it for.
5. Bring perfectionism back
The devil is indeed, as they say, in the details.
If everyone is busy making everything, how can anyone perfect anything? — Apple
To design something magical, you have to be disciplined. Disciplined to go the extra mile. To go into the fuzzy details, and create a sense of joy in every nook and corner of your products. To keep in mind how people would feel when they use your product.
It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes countless iterations. You will have to start over multiple times, until finally every person who uses it feels what you did back then. Put your care in your product, and it shows.
These are just a few ingredients I could deconstruct, and add to my own practice to create experiences that invoke childlike joy, and have fun along the way. Experiences that are a glimpse into people’s “what ifs”. Because if design doesn’t make you feel, what’s the point?