In my day job as a mild mannered creative director for a hugely successful Brisbane based development company I am often forced to justify to various stakeholders certain design decisions I make in the execution of a concept. I’ve always found this hard to accomplish as a vast portion of the design process could best be described as “gut instinct”. Even this description sounds crude now that I read this back.

I’ll try again. As a designer (I’ll assume that most designers will agree here) when faced with a problem, I switch on this internal engine built from years of stored theory, learnt mistakes and practical problem solving. This engine, fueled on empathy*, revs and roars until something just gels. As superficial as it sounds I move and manipulate elements, processes and ideas until something clicks into place. The balance of functionality, usability and aesthetics engage until the solution feels right. Sometimes tweaks are required to steer the balance into a certain direction but by the time I’m in a position to say I’m done I’m confident I’ve produced an efficient and elegant solution. Admittedly deadlines often mean it can be efficient more often than elegant, but that’s another topic for another time.

The comment above that mentions empathy is something I’ve always found core to being a designer, any sort of designer, from industrial to interior. A designer’s role is usually to create something for someone else. A chair for someone else to sit in, a room for someone else to enjoy, a website for someone else to use. To be able to meet this challenge a designer has to put on that person’s shoes and imagine what it’s like for that person to sit down, to function in a particular room or utilise a particular online process. It’s this ability that makes designers crucial in the execution of effective user experience. The term itself testifies to the importance empathy plays.

Geek Meditation

As you would expect, this cavalier approach to design execution can seem like guess work to the outside observer. In the online development world this approach will, and does,  frighten the bejesus out of lead developers and project managers alike who rely on the safety and security of process and procedure to function. It’s a sad but true fact that many development companies relegate the responsibility of their designers to mere window dressing. They “skin” the outer framework of applications, they suggest colour, font and style under the assumption that they are fulfilling brand requirements. In the real world designers are called upon to use such tools to influence mood and decision making, though online that is rarely given a second thought.

It is important to know that designers are selfish bastards. They only care about the end user. They don’t care about how things work, what language is best suited to make slot A  fit into slot B. They don’t because the user doesn’t. A designer will want a particular element to be placed in a particular spot because the user would expect it there, or experience (a web designer must become a professional web surfer to be good at his/her craft. I’ve stared at a browser it seems for longer periods than I stare into the face of my wife and child. I’m thinking of calling my next child Tab) tells them it would be less confusing if this part of the process could be done on the same screen as this one.

Take this common scenario of a website and/or online application. All too often a web designer is presented with an incredibly detailed,  heavily thought out wireframe that maps every step a user will make as they are funnelled through a site’s front door till they leave via an elevator or checkout counter. More often than not the designer is merely putting fresh paint over a rigid, seldom changed structure that’s resold for expediency. Header graphic swapped, colour palette changed, font library altered, upload.

By approaching projects in this matter key objectives like marketing can be missed or poorly executed and real-world brand association miscommunicated.

Take your designer along to your initial briefing, if not the most senior than definately the person doing the job. If the creative brief is delivered second hand to the design department it will never be what the client wanted. Ever. Your designer will be in a better position to get a sense of the larger picture the client truly desires (e.g to get in touch with a new audience or to be known as the duck’s nuts for doing what they do). While the client speaks they’ll be thinking of things such as these.

I bet you dollars for donuts any other member of your team won’t be.  Their skillset has different instincts. The solutions architect is pondering what systems will be needed to pull this off with the talent at your disposal, will they have to strike up new agreements with your hosting company to access new servers?. You production manager is calculating the head count required to be able to deliver project C before project D starts all the while trying to finish project A.2.0. Even your sales/business dev/account manager is focusing on things like costs and commissions. This is good. That is what they do. Let them do it.  But….. don’t forgot your client. The feeble and fickle mind of a designer is free of such stress inducing thoughts (that’s not entirely true, but please, stay with me). They only care for the end user remember. They’ll be listening to the client just like the rest of your rat-pack, but their thoughts are fixed on how the client can get what they want. The cap of empathy is once more donned, and the designer imagines himself as the end user, the target market, the desired demographic. Now he’s listening.

Try not to question their solutions because they differ from your perception. Try them first.

Let your designers listen. Listen to your designers.