The Evolution of Design, Or how I became a better designer.

I’ve recently been thinking about how to define myself as a designer, when I started in the industry there were fewer specialties and more scope for me to explore different fields though my design work. As I’m currently in a position of attending interviews and searching for a new role, I’ve been more acutely aware of how I think of myself and what my understanding of design is.

To try and understand where my strengths are in the Design industry, first it would be best to define what design is:

“Design is a roadmap or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation. It defines the specifications, plans, parameters, costs, activities, processes and how and what to do within legal, political, social, environmental, safety and economic constraints in achieving that objective.”

In the above definition it is clear that design plays a larger role than simply providing a aesthetic solution to a unique problem, which only seems to broaden the idea of what a designer is or does. But how does that help us to define ourselves? Hopefully our own experiences can help with the that question.

How I started out in design

I came into the design industry with a background in the arts. I studied art through my formative years in a variety of styles; learning the techniques and strict practices of ‘fine art’ and exploring the more loosely taught ‘modern art’ style. Both of which educated and informed my sense of aesthetic, creative process and slowly lead me toward design.

The boundaries between art and design are blurred, largely due to a range of applications both for the term ‘art’ and the term ‘design’. The prominent distinction between the two stems from the way each are traded, ‘fine art’ — considered to be the artistic interpretation of a work, and the ‘applied arts’ — encompassing fields such as Graphic design, photography and illustration and often traded as service.

It was within this distinction that moved me towards becoming a designer, the idea that I would be able to get paid to do something that I both enjoyed and had a innate understanding of. And who doesn’t like to get paid for something they love doing?

Becoming a better designer

Understanding design and creating something that was aesthetically pleasing was the easy part. Having a background in the arts helped guide my educated eye to what would make good design, or at least what I thought of at the time as ‘good design’. As my career progressed and new mediums and tools were developed, my idea of what good design was grew alongside these changes. Creating functional websites and building multimedia application for a maths based learning tool showed me that design wasn’t simply the aesthetic but also the form and function of how something worked, providing me with a more user-centered design technique to get to grips with.

USD (User-centered design) is characterized as a multi-stage problem solving process that not only requires designers to analyse and foresee how users are likely to use a product, but also to test the validity of their assumptions with regard to user behavior in real world tests with actual users at each stage of the process.

Analysis, research and a fundamental understanding of user behavior through testing became a important part of my design thinking. With each new and emerging technology, the end users behavior became paramount in the design process. Which would later evolve into the more define roles of UX/UI designers. The goal being to make the user’s interaction as simple and efficient as possible whilst providing great UX to meet the exact needs of the product or service without issue.

The more recent advances in mobile, social and the IoT has moved human-computer interaction into practically all areas of human activity. This has led to a shift away from a focus on simple usability to a much richer scope of user experience, where users’ feelings, motivations, and values are given as much, if not more, attention than efficiency, effectiveness and basic subjective satisfaction (i.e. the three traditional usability metrics)

Now design has moved into an area that needs greater knowledge of, not just user journeys and interactions, but how those users interactions motivate and make them feel. I explored this idea of human-computer interaction further in my most recent personal project — ‘MikeBot’. (which I’ll be writing an article on soon)

I created a chat-bot that would act as a personal introduction to myself that I could send to prospective employers. However, because of my restricted knowledge of programming languages, I needed to create a very simple mechanism of interaction whilst still maintaining a fundamental humanistic aspect during conversation. It’ll by no means will it pass the Turing test, but it led me on a path of research into what makes good human interaction design, and how I could create something engaging and interesting for the user to interact with.

So what have I learnt?

My experience in design has taken me from creating visually appealing works that sadly lacked in function to understanding not only what the function is, but why it’s required and how best to implement it.

The more interviews I attend, I come away knowing a little more about myself, what I believe design is and how I define it. Design is, for me, a strategic approach to providing solutions, through a process of questioning, analysing, researching and vigorous testing. Creating something where form and function work harmoniously together and provides real tangible value to the end users experience.

With that in mind, I continue to define myself in a very simple way:

I’m a designer.

How do you define yourself? What do you believe design in? Where will design take us in the future?

Let me know below or over on twitter, I’d love to hear from you. 🙂