This I believe: design.

I believe design is misunderstood.

In our roles as interaction or experience designers, there is a notable difference between the “D”esign and the “d”esign. “D”esign here refers the visuals, functionality, fidelity, capabilities, technical specs, socializing, usability, and the more concrete understanding of an object or service, while the “d”esign encompasses such ideas as core understanding, behavioral needs, empathy, desires, motivations, relationships, change over time, emotion, and context. These two ideas are certainly intertwined, yet distinct when observed through the lens of a designer’s process. “D”esign is important and yes the Design needs to be right, but that’s the easy part.

As an interaction designer, Design is not my focus, nor do I want it to be. It is important and it is necessary, but it has become foundational. We as designers now have a responsibility to make things work well, be quick and usable, and functional. As design becomes more and more widespread and legitimized (in a sense, just look to Co.Design and the rise of Apple for reassurance), Design is now expected of us. D-schools teach capital-D-design as the “important part,” but I believe that skill to be something that we can and should explore and learn on our own.

Thousands of budding designers learn Design on their own every day, many of whom go on to be successful UX professionals (more about that here). Anyone can place a button on a screen, but as designers we need to do that implicitly in our process. More often than not, functionality will change through development, especially in a corporate setting. All too often though, people fail to look beyond the Design into the deeper understanding of the “d”esign. The Design sits on top, it’s visible, it’s sometimes tangible, and the untrained eye locks there without looking beyond the facade. Tens of thousands of people can design that just as well or better than we as interaction designers can or should want to do it. As an interaction designer, solely focusing on the Design is shallow. Our real goal is to create amazing designs and be able communicate them in a clear, powerful way.

I believe not about getting the Design right, it’s about getting the right design. A strong focus on the process is what leads us there, but not with out the lengthy, messy process of design: thorough and thoughtful research, synthesis of ideas, sketching, concepting and ideation, talking with real people, criticism, storytelling, exploration, failure and triumph. We have a responsibility as designers to identify the core understanding of a design and why it matters. Any number of people can create a Design, but powerful, meaningful designs come from a deep understanding of the problem being solved. In finding that understanding, that’s when the right design emerges. My responsibility is to be able to confidently say that yes, this is the right “d”esign.


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