• “Um…hello? Is this thing on?” Personal Voice in UX Design.

    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.

    Express Yourself

    “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.”

    And mine:

    “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?

    There are 10 thoughts on this idea

    1. I Kea

      Whoah there, partners. Saying experience design should be just about “making it easier” is like saying that all the world’s books should be instruction manuals.

    2. Chris Cox

      Design is making the user’s life easier.

    3. Aaron Miller

      How about: It’s not about me.

    4. John Fass

      Hi Nicole

      I tend to take your definition a bit further and think of visual design in the UX field as to do with texture. That is, visual design gives emotional texture to user pathways and can be thought of as interwoven with IA, UX etc. The weft to the UX warp if you like.

    5. Liou

      Design can be many things: it can be about making things better, often providing an elegant solution to a problem, it can be about making things easier, or it can be about just providing an experience for the sake of itself. I consider providing food and cooking an instance of design as well.

      Visual design has an immediate appeal on an emotional level, more than functional or interactive design. So it needs to support (or contradict if that’s the purpose) those two other type of designs.

    6. Jonathan

      Visual design is the medium through which the mundane is transformed into the exceptional, and through which drudgery becomes play. It changes the language used to think about the problems at hand. Ultimately this change in thought transforms both the culture and soul of those exposed to our work.

    7. Parth

      Design is the art & science of creation & evolution.

      (had said this when asked the same question at my Design school by senior students)

    8. Dan Zollman

      Be honest (with others and with yourself) and do good.

    Comments are closed.

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