The theme throughout West Michigan Design Week (WMDW) centered around collaborative thinking and design evolution. In theory, these ideas should not be mutually exclusive. Collaboration should drive the evolution of the design field, after all.
Practically speaking, the series of speakers and events over WMDW revealed just how far apart these two ideas are. Remedying this in a business setting requires a concerted effort to make collaboration a cultural necessity, and not just a scheduled task.
During his Design in Tech Report 2017, speaker John Maeda broke design into three categories or disciplines: Design (Classical Design); Business (Design Thinking); and Technology (Computational Design). Classical Design refers to the design of a product, with an end or finished state. Design Thinking is more strategic and relational in nature, focusing on empathy for the customer to drive business goals.
Maeda included User Experience Design under the umbrella of Computational Design, which is design for the delivery of technology products to millions of people simultaneously, leveraging technology systems and mediums that are ever-changing.
As a practice, user experience designers have struggled to keep pace with the demands that Computational Design presents. There simply are not enough designers to design for the experiences and possibilities that technology provides. This creates confusion, too, for user experience designers (like myself) who were educated on more Classical Design principles, and must adapt to better understand technology and the design possibilities it provides.
At The C2 Group, I’ve experienced firsthand how, as designers, we can help drive collaboration, innovation, and design evolution through a better understanding of the production processes for these digital products. This includes developing a working knowledge and fluency for the back-end tools, systems, and technologies being designed for, as well as their constraints.
Equipped with this knowledge, designers can better collaborate across teams and better anticipate user needs. This means arriving at solutions proven to solve real user problems, which, in return, provides real business value. It mitigates rework if, for example, a developer says a design decision may increase load time, or negatively affect the user experience on mobile devices. It also expands design possibilities. Knowing what technology enables is the basis for innovation and the creation of new and better user-centered experiences.
Boiled down, design is about creating products and experiences that are worth using. Engineers may know how to make a solution, but they don’t necessarily know what the solution is that’s worth making. Designers, meanwhile, may know a solution is worth making, but not always how to make it.
When there’s a healthy understanding and appreciation for the technology being designed for, designers can more effectively collaborate with developers throughout the project lifecycle. When designers can collaborate across all phases of a project, we can better advocate for business goals, user needs, and better understand how the technology can help augment the experience to better serve the end user.