A measured approach to design

Design is a fickle word with undoubtedly many definitions. I’ve always found Mike Monteiro’s to work best: “Design is a solution to a problem within a set of constraints.” It’s within that definition that I’ve evolved my approach throughout my career.

A measured approach to inputs

Decisions can’t be made solely from a designer’s gut or user research. It is the collection of all inputs that best serve a decision – and the audience – with the designer as conductor. Consider:

  • stakeholders,
  • time,
  • team skillsets,
  • product direction,
  • creative direction,
  • budget,
  • best practices,
  • designer gut, and
  • user research.

That’s a lot to balance! Sometimes a stakeholder or timing or user research will be given more weight while other times the constraints of the team or budget will drive the decision. It’s important to keep all of the inputs in a sense of balance.

A measured approach to receiving feedback

“You are not your work.” If only I could send this quote in a time machine back to my college-aged self!

A great designer must disconnect commentary on their work from commentary on themselves. With this in mind, we can receive feedback as a gift to better inform our work. We might hear positive praise or negative criticism, and neither of these should be our sole direction for what comes next. It’s a reminder that feedback is one of many inputs to inform design decisions.

A measured approach to gathering feedback

Generally, stakeholders – and other inputs – serve to help a product or design, but the way in which they communicate these thoughts likely needs guidance. We can steer these conversations to be most helpful, from subjective to objective.

It’s helpful to give folks examples of helpful and unhelpful feedback. We want to avoid things like “I don’t like red” or “that looks terrible.” Instead, let’s move towards statements like “I see how the location of that button helps our conversions” or “I’m not sure that content supports our learning initiatives.”

It’s important to teach our constituents to tie their feedback to the goals and objectives of our work rather than to personal preferences. We can create a comfortable atmosphere ahead of time, confirming with our audience that their input is required in order to improve our product or design.

A measured approach to guiding conversations

I’ve found the most successful way to guide these feedback conversations is through Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). It’s a methodology that began in art museums to encourage approachable, open discussion. The method of asking questions and engaging debate helps remove ambiguity from design feedback.

With simple queues like “what do we see here?”, we aren’t asking for stakeholders to share grand design proclamations; rather, we encourage them to simply observe what they see. This makes it much easier to connect observations to goals and objectives.

A measured approach to success

Every project is different and therefore comes with different forms of success. This wide range can be as simple as “let’s launch this” to hyper specific measurement such as “let’s decrease page load time by half a second.”

Perhaps there are multiple variables that require consideration… but having an objective, tangible goal will only increase the quality of discussions and design decisions.

Balance in all things

No, designers do not use The Force to bring balance to their work. Rather, it’s the combination of the aforementioned inputs and strategies that brings the most informed decision to products, designs, and ultimately our users. It’s a subtle balance between the craft of design – the subjectivity – and the many inputs and outcomes – the objectivity – that creates the best possible results. Lean into all of the constraints and let’s get to work!

Illustration: Measured Vectors by Vecteezy