Meaningful Design in a Saturated World

We have never been more stimulated. The world around is is full of beautifully designed tech and snazzy graphics. Everyone has their own brand and visual identity and it has never been “cooler” to be a Designer. We have come to expect the things we surround ourselves with to be well-designed. How do you stand out in a world saturated by “design” that is being viewed as a commodity instead of a craft?

In answering the above question, I’d like first to take a moment to reference the philosophy of a design great, Dieter Rams. According to Rams, good design:

  • Must be innovative.
  • Make a product useful.
  • Is Aesthetic.
  • Make a product understandable.
  • Is unobtrusive.
  • Is honest.
  • Is Long-lasting.
  • Is thorough down to the last detail.
  • Is environmentally friendly.
  • Is as little design as possible.

These ten principles are simple, yet profound. Unfortunately if we really stop to examine the design that is currently around us, there are not many examples of these principles fully being applied in our world. Dieter Rams is known by many as a legendary industrial designer; one who’s work is thought to have influenced the design of the marvel we all know as the iPhone. Because of Rams’ connection with Industrial Design, some may think that his ten principles may be referring more to that area of design. I would, however, like to argue that his principles should be applied to all areas of design.

The majority of the products we purchase are not intended to last long-term as they once did. Products became noticeably more “throw-away” as their price points lowered. As technology became more readily available, more people were becoming familiar with software that aided in the production of Design work. Although it is very convenient to buy items that are readily and cheaply available, as is the ability to take 10 years off your face with Photoshop; there is always a negative side. We now have become accustomed to paying a lot of money, for cheaply made products, and we have mistaken someone who’s handy with design software for being a “designer”. Many clients seeking design work want dirt cheap rates and no time for proper analysis and exploration. Our whole mentality as a society has degraded to “throw-away” on a level that even affects us in our interpersonal relationships. I know this all seems a little dismal, but there are things that we can do as Designers to bring integrity back to the work we produce, and alter the current mentality.

 

What Can You Do? 5 Ways to be a better Designer.

 

  1. Take Responsibility for your role as a individual that effects Design Culture.

The responsibility for the state of the current mis-perception around design, an how it fits into our world, is partially on us as designers. In the last 20 years, people in the design profession experienced extreme prosperity, and extreme instability. We in our desperation, have allowed for people to pay us far below what we deserve, allowed ourselves to be rushed through the process, and letting clients intimidate us into doing things they perceive as “correct”, when we should be using our expertise to make a plan of action that will truly enhance the customers business, product, etc.

2. Take time to educate yourself thoroughly on the principles of good design, and the process that can lead you to it.

Many people confuse appealing aesthetics with “good” design. This is part of the wave of vanity we are experiencing as a society. Nothing “good” ever comes of excessive focus on vanity. Take your time and dive into books, blogs, videos, talks, podcasts and anything you can get your hands on that enriches your mind with the psychology, sociology, science and history of Design. Try not to get too caught up in “daily challenges” that don’t allow for enough time and focus on process, or the pressure that being a member of Dribbble or Instagram places on you to produce in order to be competitive. Aesthetic should be come in later in the process after you’ve done your due diligence with analysis and strategy.

3. Take time to observe the world around you, and think of how you can redesign not only objects and graphics, but systems and interactions as well.

Being a designer, your mind should be trained to always be analyzing and inquiring about the many things going on around you. Analysis is a crucial step to truly improving something. Your design mind should constantly be exercised by the world at large. Take a look at political systems, flows of buildings and walkways, entitlement programs, public transportation, medical care, software, corporate structures, family dynamics, literally anything we interact with, and think of ways you could design it better. This takes your mind out of the habit of focusing on aesthetics first.

4. Do not get too caught up in Design trends.

As cool as some design trends can be, they can hurt you in the long run by stunting your growth and perspective as a designer. Inevitably, we designers will get caught up in trends in some way or another. The seed of a design trend may actually start off as an idea that was well-explored and thought out and was well-suited for someone in particular at some point. With the widespread sharing of ideas through social media, an idea that someone had once taken the time effort to produce, then gets ripped off endlessly if it looks “cool”. The end result are designs that are not truly designed, but rather modeled after an aesthetic. Clients come to us with their Pinterest boards or Instagrams and say: “Make it look like that”. Wanting to please the client, many of us abide, and replicate without much thought as to if that design is truly suitable for the client. This is what causes stunting in the long-run.

5. Always lead with empathy, and ask good questions.

Before analysis and strategy, comes empathy. Leading with empathy opens you up to truly connect with your perspective client, or people interacting with your design. Truly put your ego aside, and listen and feel everything your client is trying to convey. Get to know them, and ask good questions. Take time to really ruminate on what you’ve been told, and the answers you’ve received. Getting outside of your own perspective will not only make you a better designer, but also a better person. As a designer, you can help change the world by using your skills to help make positive change, not only with the projects you take on, but the world around you. Being a designer is as much philosophical as it is technical. Using Empathy and asking good questions will show your clients that you truly care about them and are doing your best to deliver a design that’s truly suited for them.

At the end of the day, we all are unique and have our own ways of thinking and doing things. Still embrace your individuality, but use these principles to strengthen your voice and harness your abilities in the best ways possible.