A Design Thought

by on February 4, 2011

I’ve had a bit of a realisation about the way I come up with design ideas that I’d not considered before (see below), but first, an important aside. Many people in my field mistake the activity of discovering and refining their own design processes as being a signal that they should recommend these processes noisily to everyone else. However, just because I think that a certain technique or principle works for me, it doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone (indeed even anyone) else.

So this isn’t about finding any one true way, it’s about the way that generally works best for me. Tra la la.


The first thing I need to do is listen. Listen in as many ways as I can, and for a long as possible before I do any design work at all. I don’t always listen as effectively as I can, and my listening constantly needs to be improved. The second activity is to come up with at least one complete design without referencing other people’s work. This is because I must first confront the problem unaided so as to ensure that I have thought through and understood the problems as best I can, and that I have in fact listened. If I run off to a pattern library, or surf the web for examples, I will have a thousand possible solutions jamming my thoughts prematurely. More importantly, I wasn’t the one that was listening when those designs were created – so for all I know, they may be wholly the wrong solutions for my particular problems. So instead, I look for examples of similar work after I have initially expended some energy on some solutions. That way, I can then compare my ideas to others’, and take what I need from them in the knowledge that I really do understand how they can improve my own.

A footnote I’d also make to this (mainly because I’ve been interviewing a lot of UX designer candidates over the last few months) is that arguably the most important part of becoming a user experience designer is first to discover, and from then on to refine, your own “process” for solving problems. Periodic navel gazing is often called for.

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