My thoughts exactly. It's funny how when people start out (myself included) it's a lot about ego and getting pats on the back from clients and sexy designs getting love from your peers. Ego is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for those wanting to mature as designers.
I recently had someone from marketing come to me and say 'it's not fair if you change that colour because someone (who I've never met btw) spent ages on determining the colours' and I said 'Sorry, but there's no such thing as fairness in this context. We're designing the product for our users and the business, not for a designers ego. It can be whatever colour you like (as in...I personally don't care it it changes), but if it is better for the company or the user for us to change it then you need to remove feelings from the equation.'
I actually love letting the user and business needs steer things because that's where all the learning is from my perspective. It's super boring to be massaging your own ego by making things that you'll get high fives from naive peers for but never actually improving things. It's been years since I even remember being hurt by having to change things (to suit the needs of users or the client) and rightfully so.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't make beautiful visual designs that are high-five worthy, it's just that much better when you have married that with meeting user needs. In a way it's the hardest bit of UI and Interaction design.
Sometimes I have friends, users or colleagues that start their discussions around work I am sharing with 'I'm not being funny but' or 'don't take this the wrong way but' etc and I just tell them to 'please, be as brutal as you like, I want to make this design better and I don't have an emotional stake in it'. Normally does the trick and leads to a lot more productive advice and less tiptoeing
Anyway, rambled on a bit, sorry :)
Yea, I relate with a lot of what you said. I believe we should let the user needs and the product job-to-be-done steer the direction of our design, but we shouldn't forget about the emotional part of design, that impacts the user experience as well.
It's crucial to start by solving the problem and then making the experience feel great.
Design is subjective, and that's the beauty of it. I wish people would stop trying to define what good design is.
I believe that's what they say about art, not about design.
You can objectively say something is good or bad design. Don't take my word for it, take some time and see what some fantastic designers had to say about the subject like Massimo Vignelli, Dieter Rams or Paul Rand for example.
I like Christopher Alexander's definition of design as "a form to suit a context" (paraphrasing) partly because it lets us evaluate the merit of any design by its ability to "fit" the context of its use.
Evaluating fit certainly depends on the context (common signs of a bad fit: hard to use, doesn't solve a problem, distracting, or not enjoyable)... but I still totally think we can say designs that don't "fit" are unsuccessful.
The difference between design and art is that design is communicates a message. If the work has no concept, idea or reasoning for why something is other than "because it looks cool", it is art. This is first year design school stuff.
In my humble opinion, that's a binary and limiting view of what art and design are.
Like design, every piece of art conveys a message — sometimes it's a plain clear message, sometimes is just hidden in layers of obscure meanings.
That said, I do agree that design usually carry this responsibility to be as clear as possible in the message it conveys. I don't agree that's obligatory, though. The so-called post-modern design in the 90s (David Carson being its most recognized designer) was all about confusing the message.
Since design history has a pendular nature, now we're on the modernist side... "pure", "functional", "clean" design is in (just like famous designers defended on the 50s and the 60s). Going crazy is out. Let's wait for the pendulum to swing to post-modernism once again.
On the plus side it looks like "apps" are doing a great job of burning the last motes of life out of the industry.
Hopefully we can rebuild something better from scratch post-VC bubble collapse.
I can feel you but new trend is inevitable - differentiation is one of the major competitive advantage and it is a matter of time when clients will demanding/need it once again.
What is sad for me is that design industry as a whole start to using tools that are constraining instead of empowering - this whole sketch [which is way poorer version of illustrator just optimised] , or dont-even-design-start-in-browser-instead thing.
Just an FYI, designing in the browser doesn't mean you don't 'design' whatsoever, in my case the designing happens on paper, which is then developed in code.
I much prefer working in pen/pencil than in a graphics program like PS or Ai, given the total freedom to explore ideas, and speed at which you can iterate. It also keeps an element of the human hand in the process rather than the 'perfect' nature of the computer.
Of course it doesn't mean you don't design - what I'm saying is this process/way of working is constraining and the whole industry seems to fall into this trap.
Remember when this was a fun creative job and not just a service role…
Think I'm done.
The day we decide to put definitive boundaries around the concept of what is design is the day design stops to evolve.
Historically, the definition of design changed dramatically. During the first part of the 20st century, highly influential typography masters like Jan Tschichold and William Morris had opposite definitions of design and guess what... design not only survived but evolved beautifully.
There will always be people that define design as a way of thinking and approaching a problem. Others will always see design as something much more playful and akin to art, as something less binary — avoiding concepts light "right design" or "wrong design".
The truth is, these people have different skills and they can co-exist peacefully. In my experience, I've seen designers build a great career acting as what I'd call protect managers. And I've also seen successful designers avoiding this whole "design thinking" and embracing a more "auteur" approach. There's nothing wrong about it.
It's pretty clear that people like Olly Moss and Jony Ive have opposite definitions of what design is and both of them are amazing designers with different skill sets.
I don't want to work in a field where I'm supposed to think and behave exactly like this or exactly like that. Some of my clients do need a more technical, business-oriented approach and I usually do fine with the whole "design thinking" process... but working like that for every single client would kill me. I'm lucky enough to have some clients that treat me a little bit more like an artist. And usually that ends up fine just as well.
Design whatever you like. Many great things in today's design came from creative people just being creative with a pen / mouse without trying to solve any problem. Also, many great things came from people who found a great way to solve a problem. This is why you should, design whatever you like.
Lots of great things begin with creative impulse... but I can't think of a single piece of great functional design that wasn't at least refined by clarity of purpose and focus on actual use (even if the intended user is the designer themselves).
Design solutions can be provided by an UX.
Something to push hard on!