The self-actualizing designer

So you’re a designer. What a neat thing to say, congratulations, you made it. We’ll high five later. Oddly enough, I’ve struggled to understand what a designer actually is. The thing about design is that it’s not about you. It’s about the problem in front of you and unless you have a huge ego problem, that problem is not you.

On the web, we are exposed to countless proven and useful patterns on a day to day basis and yet we easily forget about them and get carried away, trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s tempting to think that we can just reimagine things in new ways that just magically work for everyone, as it turns out though, nothing could be farther from the truth.

People have very strong preconceptions about how things should work. Reinventing means relearning for users. Relearning takes effort and as time becomes a more and more scarce resource, wasting it becomes more expensive.

So why do we keep reinventing things?

We always feel inclined to express ourselves; whether it’s in our personal or professional life. We think that we find some form of self-confirmation and satisfaction in adding our personal signature to our work and we tend to forget about the very reason people hire us in the first place: users.

There is this old saying. “You need to know the rules before you break them”. It’s not surprising that people who’ve just started in our industry feel tempted the most to create fancy designs and interactions. These are the designs that often get awwwards, and yet these are the ones many users struggle the most with. Instead of working out an appropriately sophisticated solution, designers tend to see themselves as part of the equation.

I’ve heard many designers claim that there is no right or wrong.

I don’t think that’s true. I believe there are in fact more and less efficient ways of solving a problem. It’s what separates our whole industry from art after all. Art gets interpreted while design gets used. It’s not a matter of preference, it’s about function.

So at the end of the day we see ourselves confronted with a delicate dilemma. Are we to reinvent the world every day, trying to push the web forward, or do we want to build upon things which have already been proven to work? The more we think about it, the more we get to realize that it’s in fact not a question of creating boring versus fancy design, rather it’s about deliberate design. It’s about knowing the toolbox consisting of different patterns and being aware of when it’s necessary to create new paths.

Eventually it’s not reading all kinds of crappy articles that makes us evolve as designers; it’s experience and understanding that self-actualization comes at the end of the design process which does.

Let's talk on Twitter @azumbrunnen or check out some of my other writings.