Design is a form of art. Art is a form of expression. Design involves expression but expressing yourself, your goals and feeling fulfilled in something visually beautiful and compelling is a personal thing. When it comes to problem solving design can’t be so selfish. Design is not about you, you flipping narcissist.
A good designer needs humility.
But remember, humility isn’t a weakness. It doesn’t mean you’re being walked over or giving in to something.
Pride juggles with her toppling towers, They strike the sun and cease, But the firm feet of humility, They grip the ground like trees.
The popular view of what humility means is distorted. Humility isn’t often seen as a strength.
The design problem might not be your problem or you might not be able to solve it in the way that you want to. You may not even have control over the way you solve the problem. This is why design involves humility.
Design isn’t always about innovation, often it is about adopting convention where appropriate. For example, in User Experience design, to a degree, convention supports a user’s expectations. You could come up with a concept that’s new, wild and beautiful but often you have to accept that you are limited in what you can do.
You may be constrained by the real estate of the existing UI, links will always need to look like they are links, a page will ultimately have to perform and drop downs will need to, well, drop down. Humility is needed when accepting certain limitations.
A good designer will know how to innovate by iterating.
Humility in the unknown
Designers face an onslaught of browsers, devices and platforms. We can make educated guesses and strategise but ultimately we don’t know exactly what’s happening next. We can be far-sighted but we’ll not always be right in twelve months time with the choices we make today. We can adopt best practices to a large extent but there’s an element of the unknown that we must simply accept as being unknown. The unknown is an opportunity that presents itself when we do know at some point in the future.
Not only do we face technical challenges with a waterfall of browser sizes, devices, resolutions and functions as the unknown unfolds but as devices and platforms progress, we also see new unpredictable contexts evolve.
In order to understand new contexts we need to empathise.
Empathy in design involves stepping into someone else’s shoes, adopting the viewpoint of another person. This person may even be somebody we don’t relate to.
That person is largely perceived as being the user. But remember we must empathise with our clients too.
We can’t empathise without humility. We have to accept that our own experiences aren’t universal and designing from our own perspective is wrong.
‘No Fear’ Humility
Part of the design process is being proven wrong. We won’t always be right but we have the skills to make the right adjustments as a project progresses. If we are convinced that the proposed solution is right but the testing, or even analytics, prove it’s not working we have to make adjustments. This is what design is. Not always knowing the answers but knowing how to interpret and gather information in order to improve our problem solving. We have to accept that we will make mistakes. Mistakes are humbling.
To live a creative life,we must lose our fear of being wrong.
Most designers, knowing their products, will constantly flag issues with their business that they feel are causing problems. They could be inherent problems with legacy systems or even mistakes made by others. They become bugbears, we don’t let them lie, we keep emailing people, mentioning them at every meeting, raising the issue continuously and pointing out that something really simple is costing the business a lot of money. “It seems so simple! It’s just a simple fix! I could do it myself in 20 minutes if you would simply listen and let me!!!”
This one small change would lead to considerably more revenue and sanity for all. It’s a painful process that goes on for months, you feel like you’re just being ignored or not supported. Then one day, eventually, after some GA stats show the flaw or a painful and toe curling user testing video exposes the problem to somebody senior when they happen to watch it, they say “Hey! This is ridiculous. It’s costing our business thousands – we need to address this now!” Suddenly the problem is flagged and prioritised, it’s put into development, it’s quickly solved. Conversion goes up, money is made, credit is given to their idea, even though you flagged it months or even a year ago. Unfortunately, in some cases there’s not much you can do at this point and if anything you will look petty to others if you vocalise that “Well, actually this was my idea 14 months ago. I can show you emails!” We definitely need humility here.
A humble approach won’t feel like the best approach but you will sleep well at night and end up being a much better person.
Smart people make you smarter!
Collaborating itself is an act of humility. When you collaborate you admit you can’t do this on your own or that you shouldn’t be doing this on your own. Others are there to support you. Rely on other people, delegate to your team – they may have less experience than you but may see something in a new light. Absorb this information.
Never be afraid to ask for help. Of course you don’t know all the answers. Why would you? If you knew everything then what’s the point in trying to solve the problem? If you did know all the answers then why are you even on my team, why aren’t you the Lord and ruler of some Galactic Empire far from here?
Never be afraid to say you don’t understand or ask questions.
My biggest frustration with my own team is that I rarely, and in some cases never, hear “Sorry, I don’t understand, can you explain again?”, “So, you mean, something like this, or like, this?”, “Just run me through it one more time” or “I am not sure. I think I need help.”
It’s never wrong to ask for help or clarification. Sometimes these questions even lead to a different or better solution. If you need help, that’s fine, you can all just go through it again together. This is much better than working on something you don’t understand, putting yourself and others under unnecessary pressure and 2 weeks later you are forced by nightmarish whirlwinds of stress into finally asking the question “Can you help me?” which you could have easily asked at the very beginning without all the pain.
There is balance needed in understanding and applying humility. Sure, you have to accept the limitations of yourself and your environment but blindly following instructions isn’t humility. You can be firm, have conviction in your argument and still be humble.
Again, humility isn’t a weakness. It’s a strength. Use it.