Philosophy of Design

My philosophy begins with two questions:

1. What is design if it does not solve a problem?

2. How can one solve a problem without clearly defining that problem first?






Philosophy of Design:


Perhaps before answering these questions, we should take a step back.  Let’s start with a definition.

A Definition:

Design represents plans.

A popular definition of design comes from Herbert Simon.  Mr. Simon defined design as,
“Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”.

Mr. Simon spoke of “devises” an action, not actually taking the action.  To this definition, the actual action of creating a finished product is not in the realm of design.  Neither is gathering the requirements of the design.

I tend to disagree with this definition.  To me, design involves more – it involves solutions.  Because to me a design without context, without having to prove itself in the real world, could never be a tested.  An architect must understand physics and materials, a logo design must consider the actual use the company will have for it, and a website must work within the constraints of the code.

Even the modern role of a “user experience design” has certain deliverables that are commonly created to describe and guide the process of the user’s experience: personas, flows, wireframes, task lists, etc.

Now armed with a definition, we are better suited to understand the questions that define my philosophy.

Beginning With Questions:

My philosophy begins with a question:
What is a design if it does not solve a problem?
If the design does not take into account user usage, current trends and preferences, and business limitations such as budget or time, then the output is not realistic.  Then it is simply an academic exercise.  It is pretty for its own sake.  Perhaps it aspires to be art instead of design.  A real designer designs for real life.

My philosophy of design then asks another question:
How can one solve a problem without clearly defining the problem first?
This is something many designers also include into their definitions of design.  But in my opinion, too many designers forget what it really means.  A problem may seem simple, but really represent a bigger problem.  It is only through a keen mind and thorough experimentation that one determines the real user/consumer need that is unfulfilled.  As a teacher, business person, and marketer, using research to aid in my design is vital.

A Common Pitfall:

In my experience, too many designers presume to know what the user needs through:

  • Their own views of the world
  • Through current design trends
  • Through client wants
  • By not asking the right questions of their clients

My philosophy of design includes testing before and after the design as both a method of gathering requirements and of evaluating the success of the design.

A Focus on Solutions:

But like most philosophies, it may be too ideal for some scenarios.  For clients limited by time or budget, I offer solutions despite these limitations. Solutions first, philosophy second.  Design in the real world, for real problems. That means this portfolio only mentions the “user experience”, wireframes, and prototypes when looking at the larger solution.

My Application of Design

I take the philosophy that design is for real life one step further.  I create not only designs, but I create solutions. Real life results.  An online piece of collateral, an interactive showcase, a storefront, knowledge repositories, communities.  These are real life assets in the digital world.  So this is a portfolio of design + solutions.

Design in a Digital World

Going back to the ideal scenario, where time and budget limitations come second to creating an ideal design, the digital world plays a large role.

An Added Challenge:

Digital design to me has an added challenge versus more traditional methods of design.  Like an architect needing an engineer to build their design, the role of a traditional designer needed others to bring their design to reality.  Roles like printers, product box manufacturers, factories to produce products, etc often were set apart from the design work.  Digital designers of today have the added burden of taking their design to reality. And that means working in the variety of changing technologies, such as native apps or responsive breakpoints, content management systems, webfonts, and vector graphics rendering.

Designers Who Code:

Many digital designers have found a way around this burden.  Sure, many pass the process off to Photoshop-to-HTML companies, or change their designs to fit into CMS dictated constraints.  And if the project calls for certain limitations, then these solutions make sense.  But a quality designer in the digital world can create a site themselves, coding and all, even if they sometimes outsource. Front-end coding is important for designers in a digital world.  Doesn’t every portrait artist learn anatomy in school?  So shouldn’t every digital designer learn what code goes into their work?

Keeping Skills Fresh:

For me, this philosophy poses a challenge.  Every couple years, technology changes and something new must be learned.  It is difficult to learn to code one’s own design.  Only a couple years ago, a coding process using table-based layouts was popular.  Now this behavior is viewed as inefficient and out of date (unless working in HTML email across clients).  So new processes, coding languages, and tools must be re-learned, while remembering the past we came from.

Research – Owning The Results:

On top of coding as a method of bringing a design to life online, consumer research is vital as well.  This study is becoming very inexpensive online and there are many ways to learn these skills.  Ad placements, A/B split tests, traffic analytics, cookies, usability testing, card sorts – all of these research tools help a wise designer make a smarter design.  The re-design and revision process becomes very important. Which is where my passion for UX design is based.  Taking traditional market research and applying it cheaply and quickly to a project to aid in buy-in and success metrics – something very difficult 10 and 20 years ago.

An Ideal Digital Design:

For both the coding and the research sides, in the digital world, the life of the designer is vastly more important.  Designers can be the creators.  Designers can create end-to-end solutions.
The only limitations these days should be creativity, skill, and time.