The Designer Mind

P.J. Oneri has put together a list of tips for the developer thinking about transitioning to the field of design.

Tip #3: Design everything you do

During my first internship out of college, Stella Lai gave me this tip and it has been the best professional advice I ever received. Try to practice this tip as literally as possible. The obvious areas are how you dress and how your house/apartment/room is organized. I would suggest not stopping there. Your emails should be written/composed clearly and beautifully. Your conversations with individuals should be designed through how you listen, how you maintain eye contact, how you respond (both spoken and unspoken). Everything you do should have a reason, no matter how small. Design requires constant practice, this is a great way to keep growing.

This is profound advice, and reminds me of the practice of Mindfulness (not that I regularly practice this myself, if at all). It’s the “Designer Mind” and, like the discipline of Mindfulness or a daily meditation, as Oneri says, requires constant practice.

In conversation this focus can lead to a more powerful voice. I’m reminded of how David Lynch speaks. When Lynch speaks, he very consciously and deliberately chooses his words, which I find clear, plain and muscular. Lynch is a film-maker, writer, producer, and director who also meditates daily.

Synchronicity – as I write this, Lynch’s voice comes on the radio, talking about meditation and creativity.

This is Lynch demonstrating how to cook Quinoa:

Eliminate every element that’s not doing useful work

William Zissner, writing about writing in his classic book, “On Writing Well”:

With each rewrite I try to make what I have written tighter, stronger and more precise, eliminating every element that’s not doing useful work. Then I go over it once more, reading it aloud, and am always amazed at how much clutter can still be cut.Writers must therefore constantly ask: what am I trying to say?

This is also applicable to design. When you know what you are trying to say, or convey, you can eliminate the unnecessary. Is a skeuomorphic element necessary?

Flat Design is Honest Design

Totally agree with this from LayerVault in which the author describes simplicity and flatness in design as honesty:

We interpret recent shots taken at skeuomorphism as a sign of the coming of “Honest Design”. Much like we were not too long ago, designers working for the web are getting fed up with the irrational, ugly shortcuts being praised as good design.

While one side of the mouth yells “good design is how it works”, the other side mumbles that great aesthetics mean realism. It doesn’t need to be this way. Designing honestly means recognizing that things you can do with screens and input devices can’t be done with physical objects – more importantly that we shouldn’t try copying them.

Two of Dieter Rams’ ten design principles:

Good design is honest – It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

Good design is as little design as possible – Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

I remember seeing flat design in the first version of Ableton Live back in 2001 when everyone was refining their bevels and highlights, and thought then that it looked and felt pleasing. The latest Windows Metro UI attempts this at the OS level, though this needs more refinement. Now that Jony Ive has greater influence on Apple’s software, iOS might catch up soon. Go, flat design!

‘Any sufficiently technical expert is indistinguishable from a witch’

Robert Graham of Errata Security reflecting on Aaron Swartz:

Besides taking the “civil liberty” angle, I’m trying to get to the “witchcraft” angle. As Arthur C Clarke puts it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Here is my corollary: “Any sufficiently technical expert is indistinguishable from a witch”. People fear magic they don’t understand, and distrust those who wield that magic. Things that seem reasonable to technical geeks seem illegal to the non-technical.

I like that.