Should the submit buttons on the site be green or gray? Is an image, slider or autoplay video the best visual solution? How will the content respond to different viewports and devices? As designers, we ask these type of questions on a daily basis. They are the stepping stones of our creative process. But the question is:
How do we make the right choices to come up with the right answers?
There are no shortage of opinions on which design or development process is more effective (something I won’t attempt to tackle here). User-centered or human-centered design, waterfall or agile development and skeumorphism or flat design, are some of the most recent debates. I believe competitive audits, stakeholder interviews and user testing help us discard unsuitable ideas and steer us towards better ones. But, more information is not always better. If the project is to ever see the light of day, there comes a time when we should stop debating and start making decisions.
Isn’t defining our process important?
I believe that to be a good designer, you need to be a good decision-maker. Designers are not hired because of our workflow’s name or fluency with the latest startup jargon. Our job is to gather and curate qualitative and quantitative data that supports specific goals and needs. We are judged by our ability to amass relevant information—discard the rest—and apply it to the deliverable at hand. However, all the research in the world becomes useless if we’ve never established our strategic and stylistic point of view. Should design only be about users? Are metrics the only measure of success? Is there still a place for a personal design style? Our answer to these sorts of questions begin to define our voice.
If we don’t have a defined philosophy, will having more information help us make better choices?
Design has always been about making decisions, not about quantity of choice or information. These decisions, whether minor or considerable, determine our aptitude to do the work. They speak of our unique perspective. Thus, it is crucial that we focus—not solely on gathering data or opinions—but on collecting experiences that will, over time, inform our process and define who we are as designers.
What type of approaches can help define our design vision?
The following principles can greatly impact our creative perspective and will test our decision-making abilities:
Big picture, big idea: take a holistic look at the project’s needs, audiences and limitations. Solve small issues first and go from there—but note how every decision affects the whole.
Systems-thinking: learn to develop design relationships that are flexible, instead of creating rigid independent graphics. Design is not a finite thing anymore, it should be able to shift and evolve.
Modularity: mathematical scales can impart balance and rhythm to our design. They can be applied to type hierarchy, grids and responsive behaviors.
Consistency: define a product’s tone, look and personality, then apply them consistently. Only then will the product stand a chance of becoming memorable and unique.
New trends, tools and data are available every minute. It's up to us decipher what we take in and what’s left out. Instead of debating which prototyping or research methodology to adapt, let’s focus on crafting a voice—with defined philosophies and sensibilities. With practice and a good dose of failure (yes, we can’t be afraid to fail), we can sharpen our decision-making and make our point of view worthy of our team’s and client’s trust. Embrace research and user needs but don’t forget to translate them into actionable steps that move the project along. Ultimately, we want our work to be seen and used—not collecting digital dust on a hard drive. And for that to happen you need to make a decision.