Developing a Design Mindset

Solving real problems for everyday people.

June 17, 2020

This was the topic of today’s #bufferchat. It’s a topic I love and think about a lot as a designer. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to participate (I didn’t see the tweets coming in thanks to Twitter’s new algorithmic timeline 😞). I still wanted to chime in with my answers, so here they are below!

1. How would you define a “design mindset”?

For me, design is all about solving real problems and improving people’s lives. As a designer, you see a problem or an opportunity to make someone’s life better and you work to make it happen. It’s about being conscious and aware of the world around you, how people interact with it, and caring about continuously improving the world (not settling for “good enough” or “that’s the way it is/has always been”).

2. There are many ways to design! What kinds of things do you “design” in your work/life?

I’m constantly “designing” my life. I try to be deliberate about how I use my time, energy, and environment around me to enable me to accomplish my goals. Whether that’s how I set up my workspace, what time of day I work (so I’ll be most productive), or even where I put my facial moisturizer so that I’m consistent with my nightly skin routine. For me it’s all about having a goal in mind and managing my time, energy, and environment to enable me to accomplish that goal.

For example, I’m currently working on my watercolour painting skills. My goal is to create a piece of art everyday. So, I put a mini-calendar on my desk and every day I create something, I check it off. Having that visual feedback when I sit at my desk helps motivate me to continue my streak.

3. What qualities might be helpful to have while designing?

Having diverse experiences and interests, as well as an open mind, are two valuable things to have as a designer. Diverse experiences and interests give you a unique perspective and approach, which can help you think of more creative solutions. You never know where you will find inspiration!

As for an open mind, that allows you to take a step back and think about a design or problem at a deeper level before jumping to a conclusion. A lot of times people will see a new design (like a rebranding or app) and quickly point out mistakes or things they dislike. But keeping an open mind and giving yourself time to reflect on that design will lead you to a better understanding and appreciation of the process and work that went into it.

4. How can design communicate a story or message?

For the most part I find that design is a vessel through which a story or message is conveyed. An example is this post you’re reading. The design of Medium allows writers to convey their stories using the platform, and readers to consume and interact with the writing in a distraction-free way. So the design itself isn’t a story or a message, but it allows for these stories and messages to be communicated clearly.

5. Have you ever taken or seen someone take a big design risk? How did it turn out?

A great example I can think of is Paper by FiftyThree. When the app first came out, there were a lot of novel interactions and flows. The product team clearly put a lot of thought and effort into the app and that paid off! Their app is still one of the most enjoyable experiences for me.

6. How can the design of something impact our mood? Have you ever had an emotional reaction to design?

The obvious mood or emotional reaction that a design can elicit is a negative one. This usually happens when a user gets frustrated as they try to accomplish something and the design gets in the way. If the design simply enables the user to do what they want in a simple an efficient way, that usually doesn’t elicit any emotion at all (the design becomes invisible).

But, every once in a while, I come across a design that truly delights me. This happens when the design does something that is better than what I expected. A great example is Duolingo. It’s helped me improve my french skills (which I anticipated), but it did so in a way that provides positive reinforcement and makes me feel accomplished every time I use it.

7. How might you solve problems or overcome challenges through design?

For me it’s all about how I approach the problem. I’ve learned to first understand the context or situation where the problem is occurring. Then I try to understand the user (their motivations, behaviour, goals, and expectations). From there, I try to understand the problem itself and find where the disconnect is happening. Once I understand that, it’s just a matter of figuring out all the ways that this problem could be solved and choosing the one that is the best.

I recently realized that I’ve been using this process in other aspects of my life, specifically when interacting with people around me. A great illustration of this in action is in the case of a conflict between two friends. I first understand what happened, who the people involved are (talk to both sides), and why one or both sides are upset. This has helped me strengthen my relationships with my friends, and allowed me to reconcile friendships.

Both my life experiences and my work as a designer have taught me to be more open minded and understanding in my day to day life. This approach allows me to solve problems and overcome challenges that come my way.

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