Design these days is no longer a matter of making the best illustrations; it’s a matter of making the right series of choices. Software has evolved in such a way that even the most difficult illustrations and patterns can be done. The question these days is not ‘What?’ or ‘How?’ but rather ‘Which one?’ and ‘Why?’ Because design these days is mostly just a long road of yes and no’s, the most difficult part lies in the justification.
When it comes to justifying design choices, it’s an open game. Purists still trump the design eye or sensibilities of a designer with years of diverse experiences. More forward-thinking ones advocate the use of data analytics that can purportedly model human behavior. There’s also the camp which prefers ethnographic research and immersive observations.
Often, the best approach is a good mix of these three. Here’s my take on it. Ethnographic observations get the limelight in the beginning ‘ideation’ phase, where the question is what job the product is supposed to fill and how it can best fit the needs of the ones who will use it. Design sensibilities come at the next stage, where the actual solution is built up and crafted. The designer will have to justify not just the ‘look and feel’ decisions but also the addition or omission of features. The research serves as the foundation, but it’s up to the designer to make the hard choices. Finally, data analytics comes to optimize the entire experience. This stage is all about the small tweaks which actually lead to big changes, like how enlarging the button size by 50% can increase the conversion rate by 75% or how making the title upper-case increases readability by some double-digit percentage.
I am not a traditional designer. I was a business major and my work experience lies in research and consulting. This is also the reason why I think I have a chance to make it in the design field. The rise of data-driven design has opened up the field to non-designers. Since a big part of design is now about justifying choices, it falls right into the realm of consulting as well.
Ironically, I feel that my heart lies in the actual design part instead of the research part. I’ve always seen myself as a designer, against all odds. I had this little drawing notebook of robots and jets when I was young, which I keep to this day. I admire how function can arise out of form and vice versa. I geek out over button placements, screen sizes, layouts and typography. I like observing people interacting with software and gadgets. I experience a ‘high’ whenever I create something out of nothing.
Without the knowledge of tools, will passion and vision be enough? In the competitive world of design, it is very hard to say. Upon further introspection, I realize that I care less about details and more about the big picture.
Do I really want to be a designer or do I just want to be in the design field? Maybe I simply use it as a stepping stone to get into tech? If I get into the research part of design, how much will I like it? Do I have to take master’s for this? These are all questions that I’ll have to answer in the next few months.