- in Design
- March 18th, 2015
- by Aaron Dickey
All design is intended to fulfill a purpose even if the design itself eventually fills a different role than what the designer intended.
Consumers, users, and all the other vague contrivances we use to segment and reduce humans to data point based ghosts can help inform our decisions and direct the result of design toward our intended purpose. However, because our designs are created for others to use and consume, at some point we have to ask ourselves whether we should be designing for others or if we should relinquish control and allow our users to have a go at the whole thing. After all, who knows better what they need than the user himself?
It’s a tough question to ask as designers. Most of us have invested years of our lives and thousands of dollars on educating ourselves about the finer points of design and how best to apply that knowledge. Ceding control to a nebulous user is tantamount to throwing all of that down the drain. I mean, why bother if anyone can do it. What makes us special or any better than the average Joe? For that matter, who gave us the authority to control how the rest of the world communicates? Let anarchy rule the day!
On the other hand, we are designing with human interaction and communication as the goal. Whether that’s a website, app on your phone, a business card, advert or anything else, design is intimately tied to people. Designers are highly trained and skilled in understanding human interaction and communication so why should our work be treated any differently from that of a Doctor or Architect? Each of those fields require specialized knowledge and skills that your average individual won’t have and I’d wager that it would be cause for great concern if any of these fields ceded control to the masses.
We live in a time when design and design thinking are now mainstream. All of this attention lends itself to a hypersensitivity toward the design process and veneration of almost any design artifact. Technology has given the masses unusual access and capability to control the visual appearance of their communication. But capability is not the same as skill. Without context, knowledge or deliberate purpose, there can be nothing more than the veneer of design; window dressing if you will.
While it may be tempting to accept the idea that our users know their needs best and are best qualified to design for these needs, I don’t believe that it holds true. The knowledge of typography, aesthetics, history, and context all create a framework that makes designers uniquely qualified to direct the design process. However a framework alone is not enough. Perhaps the answer is to take a step back from our data points, come down from our glass towers, and talk to real people. We might be surprised at what we learn.