Let’s shoo the clients, bosses and managers out of the room for a second and talk about process.
Process is the bugle call of our design generation. It propagated with the IDEOs, frogs, Zurbs and Smarts of our industry and infiltrated every company. Finally, the heady coven of creation, distilled into phases and checkpoints—this was something the most empirical CEO’s could understand and salespeople could sell.
That’s wonderful. My parents don’t call me every night worrying I’m dumpster diving, and human beings have access to better designed objects as a whole.
Backstage, though, I pray to the design gods that we ourselves aren’t drinking this simplistic koolaid. Problem-solving and brainstorms are vital, but simply following the process we outline for non-designers would yield (and has yielded) unremarkable work.
Ouch! But, really, the ‘design process’ is bland, mechanical and easy. A problem comes in. You arrive at solutions, pick the winner and push that baby out into the world. It isn’t the interesting part of design at all. What really makes a brilliant designer is the white space between the outlined gospel. What creates the visual metaphors, the right questions to ask or the right shade of pink? That designer’s particular experience, whether it be school, work or play. There are hidden wells inside of us that don’t surface in explicit ways.
Even if you’ve known me for years, you might not know I watched nature documentaries every day for five or six years. Mental space for reminders and algorithms is filled up instead by seemingly useless animal facts. Besides helping me remember the names of conference rooms at Twitter, this experience gave me respect for systems and symbiosis, a sense of scale, and an eye for movement and detail, among other things. I didn’t know it then, but this antisocial TV habit was inherent to my personal design development, and vital to my career.
We create in the context of ourselves, and that’s not something easily quantified. I could never tell a client, here’s a charge for the hour I spent watching that Discovery documentary about salmon migration fifteen years ago. I couldn’t have found this solution without it. There’s no proof and no deliverables for that time. To the rest of the world, that’s nerve-wracking, but to us, it should be comfort that the best method of interesting work is to seek out experiences and learn how to let them change you.
Sell, and sell well. But never forget—each day is part of your process, and that you’re preparing for a project that may be years in your future.