About 8 years ago when designing was just a phase in my life, expected to wear itself out at some point, I never needed any reason to design most of the time. I just sat in front of the desk in my room and just open Photoshop and design away. I would keep designing till my eyes are tired and jump on the bed, only to wake up and get back to it immediately. If I wasn’t doing that, I was on behance, deviantart, bookmarking pretty designs to rebound on Photoshop later in the day. Some other times, I was going through photoshop tutorials on spoongraphics or tutsplus.
I never thought of what problem I was solving; hell, I wasn’t solving any problems. I didn’t have to. I just want to get back on my computer everyday and design. I was the designer and the user. I was never creatively dry because no constraint and no judgement means no holds barred. I never had to think outside of the box cos there was no box. those were the days when one is driven by 100% passion and not working.
After years experience, my approach is understandably different now. Before I put pen to paper, I must have a well defined problem to solve and have ways to measure the success. I get more excited when the experiment tool proves my hypothesis right and I put a feature live for users. Even more, I get quite ecstatic when I’m in a user testing session, and the participant is validating a lot of our hypothesis. How good is a product that solves a problem nobody has? Having a clear understanding of the product we are building and who we are building it for is a phase of product design that I get more excited about now.
But see… I will be lying if I said I don’t miss something out of those days. I really find it very hard to stay in front of my computer now and just design away. The innocence that allowed me to be able to design freely without constraints is not there anymore. I see something trendy that I want to try out and as soon as I hit my computer, all sort of questions rush to my head. Why am I doing this? what problem am I solving? who is going to use this? is this really important?
Along the line, you learn to look at design, especially of a digital product, more from the point of view of what it does and less about how it looks. Even the famous steve jobs quote that “design is not just how it looks and feel, but how it feels” gives credence to this kind of school of thought. If you want to be seen as a “serious” designer, you’ve got to talk more about the processes, methodologies and techniques. As a result of this kind of thinking, improving your visual design skill is implicitly discouraged. As a matter of fact, the subjective nature of visual design makes it difficult to argue for it. If your product “works”, it is argued that it doesn’t matter how the buttons look, what color scheme you use and how your pages look, etc.
I think that’s not true. I’m writing this to divorce my state of mind from this thinking. I believe how you are solving a problem is equally as important as your understanding of the proposed solution. If we look at the ux hierarchy of needs as explained by Wouter de Bres, “Enjoyable” seats at the very top of the pyramid. He explains few of the attributes of an “enjoyable” experience are:
“…great copy, a consistent & fun product personality and stunning aesthetics.”
Even while there are visible differences in their approach of the ux needs pyramid, Steven Bradley also agrees in his article that “creativity” seats at the topmost level of the pyramid. In his own explanation, a product has attained this level when it has “aesthetic beauty, innovative interactions…”. Not so many products get to this level in the pyramid. As designers, I believe, our pinnacle of success should be, not only create products that attend to human needs, but also aim towards creating “enjoyable” experiences. It takes time but we need to also treat it equally important.