Designers are held to a double standard, especially those of us who design for the interactive medium.
The stereotype of a designer is that he or she is self-referential with their design approach. Businesses cringe when faced with the prospect of bringing in a new designer to a team. I mean, come on, all designers are “shiny-shiny” types, looking for that Golden Pencil or Webby Award, right?
Management talks about wanting designers who have a rationale before suggesting a change to existing design patterns, which is understandable. We’re designers, not artists. Designers should have a process that substantiates their output; a smart, talented, non self-referential designer, able to take both the domain and its particular users into account when designing interfaces.
So designers expose their craft and processes to businesses and product teams in order to show that they get it. Seasoned designers are able to have a conversation about a business model; they can talk shop with engineers; they can subjugate their own preferences in order to understand the needs of the end user and the possibilities that lie beyond the present user experience.
The aforementioned approaches aren’t optional to practice the craft; these are the multi-disciplinary skill-sets required for the role.
“Innovation comes from rapid iterations of features” they say. “Okay” the designer adds, “Let’s just make sure we’re focusing on the right features, useful to actual people.”
Product management doubles down on their roadmap, project managers steel up, developers get frustrated, cats sleep with dogs, etc.
The intent behind crafting an interface is to create a representational model that reflects, as close as possible, the end user’s mental model regarding their goals, desires, and ability to use technology; successful interface design and ux isn’t about deploying an implementation model.
So why is the method of getting to the interface so disconcerting?
Designers research and create user archetype(s) and scenarios to represent the potential user base and their needs and desires in a product. If the synthesized findings confirm the company’s vision—from c-level to product owners—they can then be translated by the design team into interactions in the interface to either support or change user behavior.
This is how refined, holistic user interfaces are created across a single product, an entire domain, and even into external product and brand communication. Design a cross-functional, collaborative process which may or may not impact the core hypothesis behind a product’s position, but definitely will improve the user experience of the product itself.
If my non-designer colleagues in this field believe that experience design begins and ends at the interface level, where it gets pretty, then I guess I understand the hesitation to leverage our methods.
Maybe us designers should “just get drunk and throw paint on the canvas.”