Balancing Extremes—Tensions in Design
By Hannah May, Industrial Designer, Ziba
As we strive to understand the future of the design world, each of us finds ourselves trying to internalize the tensions it brings. Is design about more or less? Is it about the abstract or the tangible? Should design be about thinking or making? Is the process structured or organic? These are all important questions that command our attention every day. Below are several key points from the conference that have inspired and ignited my point of view on design today and how it is evolving for the future.
Iterate often. Gary Hirsch and his team from On Your Feet taught us that as designers, we use improvisational techniques everyday. That could be answering our client's questions on the spot or just rolling with the punches. Designers don't follow a pre-written script. Always reinvent yourself. Both Dave Gallon, of Toyota, and Gutherie Dolin, of Odopod, drove home the point that "what got you here won't get you there." Even pop stars like Justin Timberlake embrace change and reinvent themselves to keep up with the accelerating world. Don't become extinct. Improv encourages us to let go and say yes to the unexpected so that we can be rewarded by the adventures that await us.
Karen Hoffman, Art Center College of Design, challenged us to be nimble because design will expand and industries do shift. Design may not be about mastery any more but rather about being able to respond and move with the times. The world is obsessed with big ideas, but if we embrace the smaller ideas in faster cycles we can always direct and re-direct our courseórather than a slow moving ship set to a course that can't change.
Go with your gut.
Several speakers touched on the idea of going with your gut and trusting your instincts. Both Erik Kiaer, of Doblin, and Wibke Fleischer, of Smart Design, hit points that highly resonated with me as a product designer. "Most market research these days looks at the average, and I've never met an average person." They also reiterated that consumers don't make rational decisions and inspired us to not lose the magic, the seemingly irrational decisions; the excitement of the idea as we move innovation into reality. The Deskey crew also encouraged us to go with our instincts. Tensions make us human and we are often forced to use either the logical part of our brain or the instinctual part. People tend to complicate things that don't have to be complicated. Go with your gut and you will thrive.
If you aren't taking a risk, you aren't living. You have to be willing to fail completely. Alice Quan, of Walmart, taught us not to be scared of epic fails because epic fails motivate us and drive us to epic wins. She encouraged us to embrace our imperfections and reminded us that we can adjust our styleóbut not our DNA. Know what you stand for and believe in the possibilities.
Meaning is the new currency. Consumers want to connect to a product or a service in a meaningful way. People treasure their experiences forever, this doesn't apply solely to design. Musicians today are increasingly compelled to figure out how to stand on a stage and make a connection with their audience. Yesterday the connection was playing that one hit single, whereas now the connection has to be both more genuine and more human. We have to provide meaning in our products and experiences because people will never forget how you made them feel.
Be transparent, be open and engage everyone.
Naomi Pomeroy, owner and chef at Beast, encourages us to have no secrets. She described her plug and play process that empowers everyone involved to contribute ideas with confidence. Inspiration can come from anywhere or anything. Be open, be flexible and be surprised. In Naomi's kitchen, they are constantly refining and always collaborating. She encourages input because it maintains a high caliber of work and keeps each team member interested and engaged. Allow collaboration to lead to serendipity and happy accidents.
Don't say, do.
Design is doing. We all know that creativity is messy, cranky and unpredictable. Design thinking has to be actionable and not theoretical. Tad Toulis and John Barratt of Teague pushed the idea that the age of explaining design is ending and the age of demonstrating design is beginning. Poor design execution is a symptom of poor design thinking.
Do epic shit.
You have to have an open, flat and transparent business. Companies like Google are throwing out the rulebook because policies kill creativity. If we create guidelines and norms, not rules, management can't say no. We have to give people the freedom of space and freedom in process. If you change nothing, nothing will change. Be willing to move fast and break things. Dave Gallon, of Toyota, points out that the goal of early experiments is not success; it is understanding the point of failure and improving upon it. The barriers that tend to hold us back are the rules that we aren't willing to test or break.
Think, thought, thunk.
Is design thinking dead? That is the question that always fills a room with both excitement and potential horror. Design thinking has not only inspired design but several other industries, such as business and financial innovation. Tom Lakovic, of Industry, points out that design thinking has gotten designers a seat at the corporate table—but now what? The problem with design thinking is that it tries to take something that is fluid and make it systematic. You can't force the creative process into a black box. Design thinking is overused, overanalyzed and misunderstood, and we can't focus on the words anymore. Yes, we are due for a new title but for now we should focus on delivering great actionable design.
To both the young and mature designers out there, I don't know what's next but I do know that we need to remember to always learn, always ask why and never stand still. Ideas can come from anywhere. Stick with your principles over a process. Design is not always a simple 1-2-3 approach. Don't be afraid to swim upstream and be willing to take a risk.
Hannah May is an Industrial Designer at Ziba in Portland, Oregon. She has worked on projects for clients including Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Luxottica, Logitech and TDK Life on Record. Hannah holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design from the University of Cincinnati. In her free time Hannah enjoys photography, volleyball, sewing and exploring Oregon with her puppy, Lincoln.
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