This post examines an important part of the design process that, for some reason or other, is often omitted from community conversations. Its aim is to get the design community talking about the ‘whys’ — including why they are important.
One advantage the design industry has going for it is its helpful, giving community, and that community’s desire to learn and grow. Just look around at the conversations had at conferences and online. Experiences are shared, techniques are passed along, and so many helpful hints and tidbits are blogged. But one element seems absent.
For all the conversations we are having, we don’t discuss why we make the decisions we make in our projects. It’s our choices that provide insights and opportunities. We should talk about them.
Why ask ‘why’?
Perhaps we don’t realize that the rationale behind our decisions can be valuable to others in the community. Perhaps we don’t think deeply about our decision-making processes because so many decisions are made in the early stages of our projects. We often skip ahead in our retellings; we focus on technique when we share, rather than overall experience, and we show off the techniques that tied the end-solution all together without any explanation about how we got there.
This not only sells our process short, it sells the industry short as a whole.
Help the community learn
Revealing our decision-making processes and discussing why we chose to use various techniques can be useful when teaching others. Our choices offer insight into the problems we run into and the solutions we come up with. If we want to teach others to walk in our shoes, this is vital information. The choices we once made were opportunities for us to learn, and they could become opportunities for others to learn. Why do we give strict instructions for getting from point A to point B instead of just handing over the road map?
Help clients understand
The more we talk about why we made the decisions we made while working on a project, and the better we get at expressing them, the more we’ll be able to help our clients understand why they should side with us when there are clashes between visions. Numerous stories populate the blogosphere that highlight how often this type of situation arises. Clients push for things to be included in projects that could potentially compromise the design’s effectiveness, and we push back.
The better we are at making the case for our design decisions, and the more forethought and research we have put into them, the more credence our claims have. We may even be able to show that our decisions were made in a more thorough manner than those we are arguing against. Our processes are deliberate, and it’s because of the decisions that drive them. Demonstrating this to our clients could be the extra push they need to give us clearance to follow through on our ideas.
Track the creative process
How this profession is perceived is one problem that has been discussed on the web by the community. Web design is often discounted as a whole because some think our work is virtually effortless. People think all we need to do is press a magic button and, suddenly, fully functional, tested and tried products instantly appear online. That is not how it works. Perhaps this stems from the fact that non-creative people do not understand the creative process?
Discuss your creative process. Give your clients a revealing look behind the curtain so they get a sense of the amount of time and thought that goes into our products before we even begin to render anything. Keeping a lid on our own tendencies to gloss over these vital steps could be the beginning of breaking through that mindset.
Add depth of understanding to projects
The kind of conversation I’m advocating gives insight into the full meanings of our designs, straight from those who created them. While there can be an interpretive element to design, recall that specific end goals were set for each project, and shedding light on the way those goals were reached can negate the need for interpretation.
Furthermore, if, from the outset, we expected we’d be having these conversations (if we knew we’d have to provide said road map), then we might consider each of our choices more carefully, and thus strengthen our own grasp of a given project.
This can also benefit the design in other ways — with regard to appreciation, for example. We know that design should not overshadow the brand or service it promotes, but it doesn’t hurt to build functional designs that users can appreciate. The more people understand a design and the decisions that shaped it, the more likely it is that they’ll connect with the design. Connection leads to appreciation, which is intimately connected with success.
Highlight professional expertise
I’ve glossed over this in other sections, but it deserves an explicit mention. A good designer can bring together complementary elements to create an effective design, but a great one can tell you exactly why each of those elements was chosen and just what makes them work effectively with one another. The more we talk with our clients about the why behind the how, the more we highlight our professional skills and know-how. Take the opportunity to demonstrate the expertise that will make you that much more desirable in the job market and give your clients confidence in your skills. These discussions can open doors for us that might have otherwise remained closed.
Success in this business is not so much about price points as it is about clarity of vision. Let current and prospective clients know that we have the talent to back up our asking prices and that the works in our galleries are more than just happy accidents.
Stop holding back
When you start to examine the numerous benefits of sharing your decision-making processes, you might start to wonder what is holding you back. Why haven’t you been having these conversations?
What if we are holding back because we don’t know why we made the decisions we made? Have we become so overworked that we just aren’t doing the research we should be doing in order make the most informed decisions we can make? Maybe too many of us are bluffing our way through the decision-making process.
Even if none of that is true, we have to consider what impression we are giving our clients. Maybe we just don’t have time to spare for more meetings, but it might not be coming across that way. As a community, we should make the time to make these conversations happen.