Let’s talk about design. Not design from the stores, not the fancy cups and ever-changing, over-styled shoes, but design as a creative problem-solving process used to tackle some of the most important issues of our days. That’s right, there’s much, much more to the discipline than a few well-drafted lines – in fact, behind the scenes is an entire methodology dedicated to understanding cultural codes, user behaviours, social and technological trends. You might think I’m just dropping a bunch of cool-sounding names here, but these are all linked to a reality. They are efficient, important tools that ought to be used for any good design project.
Problem solving is at the very core. Some say if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. The job of the designer is to dig a little deeper and identify problems before they actually happen, so they can work ahead on potential solutions, evaluate the future impact of each option and define how to optimally implement them. And of course, if it’s already broken, fix it.
The question is, how does one fix a problem adequately? That’s where the research methodology jumps in. Who experiences the problem, how they behave towards it and other parts of their daily lives, what arguments they are sensitive to, how open they are to changing their routine, which cultural codes they relate to… are just a few of the many questions one must answer as part of the design process. Because understanding is key, exercises exist for designers to develop empathy or highlight patterns usually kept invisible. As smart and creative as one may be, these qualities are worthless if the problem isn’t fully comprehended.
Next comes strategy. How does a project find its place in the world? Bridging a new project with those already there, with its environment – both physical and cognitive –, reusing existing codes… generally defining the platforms through which it will be accessed and who can access it is just as important as anything else. And giving value, not depending on the designer’s standards but on the user group’s. It’s a hard task, which requires that one acknowledges one’s taste as individual and leave prejudices aside.
A good design project isn’t just one that can solve the problem. It’s one that is being used to solve the problem.
Iterations will make a project as precise as can be. Research, design, prototype, test, research some more, redesign, reprototype, retest… Where in all this is the creativity, you might ask. Well, that’s the deceiving part: it’s everywhere, but nowhere in particular. Design is a creative practice, and yet a good design process never leaves you alone with your creativity. It doesn’t allow you to think “this is what I should do, because I like it”. Good design requires another level of validation. It is what you should do, because it will make sense for your user group, because it will make it simpler to understand or easier to implement, because it will make it lighter or stronger. Because it will make people want to use it.
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