There's one aspect of design that I believe is crucial for today's designers to practice. And it’s a skill that AI doesn't easily replace: perspective.
What does it mean to practice design with perspective? I like to think of perspective as having the ability to see a problem from different points of view, often in opposition to each other, at the same time. It means being able to be a neutral agnostic, as well as opinionated believer.
I'd like to share three aspects of perspective to consider in order to create great design.
1. Don’t stay in your lane
Zoom out to see the larger context
In the book Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making, Tony Fadell founder of Nest (and creator of the iPod), describes how he spent hours reading through the instruction manuals for the Nest thermostat, realizing they were just as important as the packaging and marketing for the product.
Why? Manuals are an important touch point for customers. If someone is reading through a manual they are usually trying to get help or likely frustrated with installation. Tony realized that making the manual as intuitive and helpful as possible could be a turning point in the experience, one that creates a raving fan out of someone who was initially frustrated.
Getting out of your lane means viewing a design problem beyond the normal boundaries of a designer.
Viewing problems in this way gets to the heart of design, which is to solve problems by fitting, arranging, and organizing so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When you think larger than the piece you’re working on, you bring greater value because you are helping to ensure the success of not only the project, but help achieve the broader goals and aspirations of the client.
Ask questions to uncover how what you’re working on will affect the larger whole:
- What are the issues that led to this particular need or problem?
- How does this piece fit in with other current and future communications?
- How does this solution affect the organization's bottom line?
Don’t just assume that because you’ve been asked to design a website, logo, or other deliverable that people have thought through how this will all work.
It’s easy to think that there is someone else who sees the bigger picture, and how all the pieces fit together. This is rarely the case - most people are too busy to stray from the specific tasks they are assigned.
Yet when a viewer sees a product, a website, or communications, they aren’t experiencing different pieces separately. They aren’t separating the design from the content, or how something looks vs. what it says. They are experiencing it as a whole. They don’t have time to investigate the nuances and details and tend to make an immediate judgement.
One of the most valuable ways to gain perspective is to take a journey through the eyes of a customer, client, or end user. This requires taking off the designer glasses for a minute and just experiencing all of the various steps a viewer takes. This could be a user journey through a website, or it could be a brand experience such as investigating, purchasing, and using a product.
2. Get in the weeds
Zoom in on overlooked but crucial details
Designers who care about their craft will take time to not only take a bird's eye view, but investigate important details. They know that while the bigger picture is crucial, little details can make a huge difference in the experience of a customer or user.
Caring about the details doesn’t mean to be obsessive over small matters that don’t influence the final outcome—it’s about taking the time to see the details most people overlook, but that when done correctly make a big change in the final outcome.
An example of this is how the Apple iPod first shipped to customers. Prior to this, customers needed to charge electronic devices after purchasing them in order to use them. But Steve Jobs pushed the teams at apple to make sure the iPod shipped with a charge, so that customers could instantly start using the device. This was a smaller detail in the overall scheme of the iPod product development, but it made a huge difference in the customer experience.
Thinking in this way means the small details have a reason to be perfected—there is an impact on the overall experience that requires extra attention. That extra attention goes a long way and can have a great influence.
Not only did Jobs push designers to think about small details in the buying experience, but also small details in the user interface for the Mac operating system. He encouraged designers to think about the edges of UI elements, icons, and other seemingly small details that many at the time overlooked. He knew that Apple customers would be interacting with these elements every day, and any minor adjustment could have a big impact when multiplied over countless hours of user time.
What are the details in the project or work that most people overlook? Which are the ones that when done right, can have a big impact when multiplied over a large scale? Which are the ones that can turn something into an emotional experience? These are questions to ask yourself when looking at things through the perspective of crucial details.
3. Show your cards
To bring your own perspective on the world, on creativity, and on what makes a great design
The final part of perspective is a tricky one to get right, but important nonetheless—to bring your own perspective to your work.
One way to think about using your own perspective is bringing your own unique style to a project. What are elements of how you work that could bring some personality to the end result?
Another way to use your own perspective is your approach to the creative process. What are ways that you work that could prove valuable to the client or final solution? Just because you may be used to them and they seem ordinary to you, doesn’t meant that they are any less valuable. You may have important insights from your own approach that could help team members or stakeholders see a different point of view.
Finally, what are the values and worldview that drive what you do? Do you hold particular beliefs about what makes good design? Do you have a bent towards social good, caring for the environment, or other aspects that could influence the work?
Famed industrial Dieter Rams used perspective when he generated his ten principles for good design:
- Good design is innovative
- Good design makes a product useful
- Good design is aesthetic
- Good design makes a product understandable
- Good design is unobtrusive
- Good design is honest
- Good design is long-lasting
- Good design is thorough down to the last detail
- Good design is environmentally-friendly
- Good design is as little design as possible
Rams created his list of principles to answer the question, "what makes good design?". Not everyone will agree with these principles, and that's what makes them great - they take a point of view, rather than describe the mechanics of design. Your own perspective on design and the world around you can make a stronger connection with clients, inspire users, and ensure a more human approach to each project.
Using your perspective as a designer creates value for your team, clients, and audiences. While it's not an easy skill to implement, it's important to continue approaching problems from different viewpoints. Doing so allows for greater insight, more creative solutions, and opens yourself and others to the possibilities in other points of view—or at the very least more understanding, which our world will always in need.