Demystifying Design

by Jeff Gothelf

15 Reader Comments

Back to the Article
  1. I agree wholeheartedly with this post. If we can help colleagues and clients better understand our process and techniques, I do think good things will happen. Workflow will go smoother. Sign-offs will happen quicker. World peace will be achieved.

    Here’s the rub: In the past, I’ve often found myself spending more time trying to educate my client that actually working on the project. Yes, when they say “make the logo bigger” certainly ask “Why?”. But often times, even after a lengthy explanation of the principles behind the inordinately small placement of their logo, they still want it bigger.

    What’s a designer to do?

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  2. Thanks for your article. The designer/non-designer separation isn’t something I’ve given too much direct thought, but in reading your article I can see how it could be very easy and beneficial to show the people I work with that they can help in the design process too. Thanks!

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  3. Everyone’s designer inside but not everyone can reproduct their ideas. That’s why some people are called designers and the others are just dreamers. I am a dreamer as well…

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  4. I enjoyed this article, but I have to admit that your statement about how sometimes things just look right to a designer rubs me the wrong way. This statement is full of truth, of course, but when we make decisions with our gut rather than based on some sort of collection of observational data, awareness of human cognition/perception, design patterns, etc. we absolutely MUST test out whether those decisions were the right ones. Now, I know how you work and I know you do that yourself, but I don’t want someone reading this article to come away from it thinking they can just stop when something feels right.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  5. There is certainly some merit to this article. I have found that by bringing in the client into the process early on, such as by asking them to suggest some good imagery or thinking about the relative importance of parts of their message, it increases the likelihood of producing an effective design.

    BUT: I really have to disagree with this statement:
    “Non-designers often feel unqualified to enter our world and many won’t attempt to participate in the design process.”

    That is so completely opposite of my many years of experience as to be laughable.

    Non-designers have no problem whatsoever inserting themselves into the design process and turning us into production monkeys. Most non-designers seem to work on the premise that what we do is just ALL FUN ALL THE TIME and we should be happy to do it for free! And the only reason they don’t have our jobs is that they don’t know how to use Photoshop.

    I do think it is of value to, as I said, bring the client into the process early on, but in a way that illuminates the design process as problem-solving and engages them to help you solve the problem in an effective way by sharing THEIR expertise of their market/audience.

    But to imagine that somehow our issue is that clients feel unqualified to take part in the process is just a head-scratcher. But perhaps that is the case in the world of UX/UI. It is certainly not the case, in my experience, in print and visual web design.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  6. Sort of like what Chris mentioned, it’s been my experience that non-designers feel more than qualified to handle the design work for no other reason than they have good taste.

    As an in-house designer dealing with a half dozen different departments on everything from presentations to convention displays, I have definitely had some great design process discussions with people whom everything just seemed to click. That being said, I’ve actually found that a lot of people don’t care to learn anything about design; they just want what they want. When I find someone that’s genuinely interested in design I am more than happy to help demystify things for them. That, at least for me has been pretty rare though.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  7. @cob – I would recommend including them in the design process more. As the article suggests, have them participate in the ideation phase and ask them to create with you. That simple act alone humanizes the design process. It shows the pains, twists and turns and ultimately the challenges of “getting it right.”

    As they make the logo bigger in their sketch, ask them why they did that and how it helps achieve their business and customer goals. It’s not an exercise in humiliation of the client. It’s an exercise of education that can only happen through “doing design.”

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  8. @fredbeecher – completely agree. Validation of our ideas—whether they are born of academic edification or innate intuition—is critical to the success of our work. This is a theme that runs throughout all of design and should not be minimized. Great point.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  9. chris and myquite—excellent point. I would counter that those clients insisting they know better you are not “entering the design process/world” but instead attempting to keep control in an unfamiliar environment. They don’t feel qualified to dictate design. They DO feel qualified to manage. The challenge for us is to illustrate the depth of thought and craft that went into our design decisions. By bringing them in to the process through the methods described in the article you make the unfamiliar, slightly more familiar. With that familiarity comes recognition of the designer’s expertise. You actually increase your value with that client! In time, they will trust that you are doing much more than “making things pretty.”

    Now, will this cure ALL clients? Hell,no! But for those willing to take a leap with you, a much stronger client relationship will follow.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  10. Non-designers have no problem whatsoever inserting themselves into the design process and turning us into production monkeys. Most non-designers seem to work on the premise that what we do is just ALL FUN ALL THE TIME and we should be happy to do it for free! And the only reason they don’t have our jobs is that they don’t know how to use Photoshop.

    I do think it is of value to, as I said, bring the client into the process early on, but in a way that illuminates the design process as problem-solving and engages them to help you solve the problem in an effective way by sharing THEIR expertise of their market/audience.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  11. I find that so often “we” are talking in design/tech geek talk that simply frustrates or confuses clients. What happens when a client is confused? They try to regain control of the scenario by making changes or without realising it intentionally become difficult. Remember what it was like when someone first explained hosting, wordpress or something now so simple but at the time……. Talk to them so they will understand and they will come along with you on your journey, not theirs.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  12. I agree with a lot of what the author has said, but not all of it. Clients already feel that they know more about design than we do and are not hesitant to tell us. I’m already at the mercy of non-designer colleagues who have appropriated the concept phase for themselves, who spend time developing layouts in PowerPoint without my involvement, and who get upset because the end result is not “…what we want.” Team involvement is often a one-way street—I the designer am expected to follow orders, period. To them, all I do is to move things around on the page, and I am supposed to do that to order. They are already versed in the design vernacular and are not shy about telling me to kern or to increase or decrease leading. They know about white space. Their attitude is that I am to do it their way. Whatever professional knowledge or ability I bring to the table is irrelevant to their belief that they are the designer and I am the layout drone. What I speak, they do not hear. What I write, they do not read. They do not care, and no amount of demystifying the trade is going to change that.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  13. @Jeff Gothelf:
    “By bringing them in to the process through the methods described in the article you make the unfamiliar, slightly more familiar. With that familiarity comes recognition of the designer’s expertise. You actually increase your value with that client! In time, they will trust that you are doing much more than “making things pretty.””

    YES! I perhaps overstated my view for sake of discussion, but what you said is what I have found in my current position. It did indeed involve effort on my part, but now co-workers actually bring projects to me where they have already identified the most important parts of the message and we talk productively about the best imagery and layout in terms of communication goals, not personal taste.

    But as you say, this will not work with everyone. Some know just enough design terms to be dangerous and essentially just want to dictate to you to carry out their esthetics.

    Glad I sparked further discussion!

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  14. I vehemently disagree. Design is a craft. Practiced well, it demands focus and discipline and, counter-intuitively, creative leaps and risk. The designer has to think things through and figure shit out.

    The process laid out here—a delusion of happy collaboration between bean counters, stressed out clients and business minded account managers and, presumably, somewhere in the mix, designers—would be an unproductive clusterfick for any capable designer. Input is one thing—valuable, in its place.

    But clients want design to solve hard problems, and to solve them beautifully and brilliantly. Pandering to people on the team by earnestly seeking opinions and and then making sure those wayward, uninformed, and wrong opinions are manifest in the product dilutes quality.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  15. Thanks for a great article.  As someone starting out in design I found your take on the designer/non-designer world as fairly accurate.  It certainly seemed intimidating at first to feel confident in using the designer jargon, without feeling like an impostor.

    Using the strategies you outlined, not only from an internal stakeholder perspective, but also for clients I think will definitely help take them on the journey so that they have the time to understand the “Why” behind the design, rather than just the end product.

    Does anyone think that by including other parties in the design process it can actually lead to a different, and more innovative/creative result?
    As non-designers thinking patterns would be different and as such different solutions could come to them more naturally.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.