I recently finished a 6 month project here at AP and after the final presentation one of my teammates asked, “So how would you describe your design style? I don’t know anything about it.” It seemed an odd question given that we had been working together for the last several months and I had just presented extensive visual design deliverables. But when it came down to it those deliverables did not, in fact, reflect anything about my personal design style.
The Invisible Designer
I realized that the best examples I could give him were of my work pre-UX design. I came from a traditional graphic design background where having a strong visual style was rewarded. In school we aspired to be like trend-setting designers such as Stephan Sagmeister, Paula Scher, and Shepard Fairey whose work is instantly recognizable. It was actually a relief to find my place in UX design. My work in other industries, like advertising, had often felt self-serving, focusing more on what the designer thought was cool then the person consuming the design.
As UX designers we prioritize user needs which means personal style often fades into the background. During a recent visual design review our client ended the meeting with the statement, “There’s really not much for me to comment on because there isn’t much visual design.” In fact, there was quite a bit of thought put into the visual design. But because the client hadn’t noticed it we considered it a success. It blended so seamlessly into the entire experience.
But something about the conversation with my coworker left me dissatisfied. If good design is invisible does that mean a good designer is also invisible? Is there no room for personal voice in UX design at all?
Style versus Philosophy
It’s unlikely that anyone will ever look at my UX work and say “That is obviously a Kim Cullen.” And, in my opinion, Adaptive Path should not have a recognizable house style. But I think we should be known for impactful visual design that supports each unique experience that we design for. Style not only aids functionality but it adds that intangible element of joy, grace, serenity, provocation. For me visual design is the emotional bridge between functionality and human experience.
With that I realized that without the space to articulate a personal style it was actually through personal philosophy that I was able to express myself and create a common thread for my design work.
As an experiment I started asking my coworkers to define their personal design philosophy. This question was almost universally met with a look of terror as they slowly backed away from me. But given 30 seconds to think about it everyone came up something surprisingly articulate and unique to his or her personality. They are simple statements that provide inspiration and a way for people to unify their work under a consistent frame of mind.
Here are just a few anonymous examples…if they knew I was going to post this they probably never would have told me.
“I design to inspire not just validate a concept…and to make it look cool.”
“Design is a word that means nothing and everything.”
“Good design is a sign of respect for your users. Bad design is a sign of contempt. (If a design is bad I feel like I’m being dissed.)”
“Talk less, do more.”
“Design is about humility. A designer needs to have a split personality between their technical craft and empathy.”
“Articulation is as important as content.”
“Relevant and results driven.”
“Support meaningful relationships.”
“Nudge people out of their comfort zone, work together, and design for the possibilities that don’t exist yet.”
“Consider the full lifecycle.”
“It’s not as hard as you think.”
“Visual design is the emotional bridge between functionality and human experience.”
There are plenty more but I’m really interested in hearing design philosophies from people outside of AP. In 30 seconds or less…what is yours?