Dec 19 2016

Designers Want to Be Taken Seriously. Here's How We Do It

We’ve given hundreds of talks and written millions of righteous words about the problems we solve; insisting that designers don’t just "make things pretty" that we make the world a better place. We pointed to industry giants like Dieter Rams and Viktor Papanek as examples of designers who’ve solved meaningful problems. We wanted, and still want, to continue that proud tradition.

But too many designers fresh out of school don’t want to be Rams; they want to be Stefan Sagmeister. He’s famous. He’s created gorgeous work. He’s edgy. So we invented platforms like Dribbble and Awwwards. We started showcasing the most beautiful work. If it’s visually elegant and nicely kerned, impeccably timed and tastefully colored, we heap accolades on it. Designers elevated the decisions and processes that lead to those sorts of visually stunning, but probably not functional, usable, or meaningful artifacts.

Then, not too long ago, we turned around and wondered why engineers and executives only ever asked us to skin an app or wrangle a decent Powerpoint.

We lost sight of the fact that design is holistic.

Design informs every step of a project right from inception. Designers are trained to advocate for users, to ensure that the team never loses sight of their needs, pains or handicaps. They make sure that the product being built is the one that’s most valuable to users. From market research to user interviews, to execution, testing, and documentation, designers need to be involved. When our user advocacy is constantly and consistently intertwined with engineers’ impeccable tech know-how and the business development team’s market wisdom that’s where a sustainable, meaningful product is born.

And that’s exactly what MojoTech builds.

Industries like healthcare and finance have traditionally been design deserts interfaces are built without considering user experience; without diving deep into what customers really need and how to give it to them. Vital information like a hospital’s emergency room hours, or the pricing of insurance plans, can be hard to parse and even harder to find in the first place. Login or registration flows can be incomprehensible and sometimes just broken.

In other words, they’re not flashy, beautiful problems. But they’re problems users especially the most vulnerable and least tech-savvy face every day. Solving them can make their lives demonstrably better.

These are the kind of issues MojoTech’s tackling how might we make it easier to compare insurance plans? How might we help users navigate tangled legal processes? It’s difficult work. There are use cases and personas we’ve never had to think about before. It forces us to push our comfort zones, to empathize with people facing different problems, with different needs, blocked by different obstacles. At the end of the day, those broadened conceptions make us better designers.

Designers try to emulate people like Stefan Sagmeister in hopes that it’ll unlock some secret to better design; to doing something meaningful. But Sagmeister’s secret isn’t one particular technique or medium, or the visual properties of his work it’s his willingness to take risks in the pursuit of unexpected solutions.

The world doesn’t need more Sagmeister-esque work; it’s already flooded with enough ‘pretty’ ad campaigns and fitness trackers for a lifetime. What it needs is designers willing to be risk-takers to explore, question, and iterate in pursuit of meaningful innovation. It needs designers willing to fix the problems that haven’t been solved yet, that can make a difference in users’ lives.

If you want to have an impact, be that kind of designer. Work with companies doing that kind of work.

And maybe then they’ll stop asking you to make PowerPoints.

Andy Davies