Three beers. Three realizations. One take away.

My Dinner with Bill

From time to time, Bill*, a friend of mine, and I meet for beers. Like most people, we catch up by trading stories. We are amateur philosophers, though. So we spend time looking for patterns, drawing lessons, and abstracting rules, most of which can be expressed as follows:

                               This new situation, X, resembles old situation, Y. Try using rule B.

Beer three

By about beer number three, we run out of stories about our wives and our children, about sports and travels, etc… So we turn to work.

Together Bill and I have over 50 years’ experience in UX design. We’ve each solved complex design problems, built successful teams, and dealt with treacherous company politics. There’s no need to share stories, I thought. It’s not likely we’ll have many new ones. Instead, let’s step back and evaluate our hard won list of rules.

“When all is said and done,” I asked Bill. “What really matters? What is really important to good design?”

Three things…

Given the length of our rule list, the speed with which Bill and I came to our conclusions surprised me. Almost spontaneously—we agreed. In the end, three things matter:

Cultural anthropology
If you understand what culture is, what a cultural anthropologist does, and if you apply those techniques to the ‘culture’ surrounding a design problem, you are much more likely to deeply understand the design problem in front of you.

Divergent thinking
If you read widely, are curious and interested in ideas and if you associate with other people who think the same way, you are more likely to propose interesting design ideas. Interesting ideas often come from combining two things that don’t at first seem related.

Finally, if you understand that design requires iteration, and if you refine your ideas by creating prototypes, seeking feedback, and iterating prototypes, then you are much more likely to end up with a good design.

The über rule

After beer four, Bill and I switch to coffee. We each have a long drive ahead of us.

I left our latest session feeling proud, feeling unique. But by the time I pulled into my driveway, I realized that any seasoned designer would come up with the same list.

What’s important is this: Buzzwords, toolsets, methodologies, and steps take on a life of their own. Don’t be seduced by them. Don’t let them lull you into complacency. You can take rules above at face value. Better would be to adopt a mindset that allows you to derive them on your own.

If there is an über rule, that’s it.

* Not his real name.

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