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Are design articles ruining your product?

over 2 years ago from , Product Design Instructor at Tradecraft (jakefleming.net)

Lots of articles popping up over the last couple of years about personas being terrible, how you shouldn't use them, most of which seem to reference situations in which the team has fabricated personas in the past, completely made them up, therefore going down a rabbit hole of shit solutions without validating whether or not their initial persona is in fact aligned with real user goals. Mind blowing stuff.

You could swap out the persona tool for any design tool in any of those articles and the outcome would remain the same. Use a tool poorly, get poor results.

Success/failure stories from companies trying various tools like personas, JTBD, BMC, etc. provide valuable insight into real companies' and designers' processes. These case studies are essential to the design community. They hopefully help us learn the pros and cons of these tools.

But, articles written by well-known companies and designers that shit on tools that actually do a pretty good job at ensuring a decent design as long as you use them correctly, are damaging to the design community, especially designers new to the industry. These articles limit new designers' perceived options for solving a problem, because of another team's failure to utilize a tool correctly. Yes, constraints are a good thing, as long as those constraints are clearly defined and understood.

Designers, give yourself options. Know your tools, their pros, their cons. Share your stories. If you use a tool poorly and it doesn't work, share that story too. But, don't try and sell your audience (who might not know better), that your failure should be a reason not to get familiar with that tool.

I'd love for this little post to become a place to find articles that actually weigh the pros and cons of various design tools. Please share any articles, books, pdfs, whatever, here that have been beneficial to your existence as a designer.

Or don't!

PS: I know articles that fall under the umbrella I've described above are only trying to provide a resource to the design community and I love you for that! I just want those resources to be as useful as possible, especially to new designers.

27 comments

  • Dirk HCM van BoxtelDirk HCM van Boxtel, over 2 years ago

    Yup, this goes for all tools in our toolbox. You can slam a hammer because you nailed your thumb with it, but it's still the best tool to put nails in place!

    Hope that analogy drove my point home!

    9 points
  • Benji Smith, over 2 years ago

    Okay, it's not an article but actually a video of a conference talk...

    https://vimeo.com/115154289

    The speaker is Bret Victor, and his talk is called "The Humane Representation of Thought". At its core, he asks the question: how can we design modern computer representations of our mental models (especially at work), while always remembering that we're designing for real-life flesh-and-blood human beings.

    Human beings are animals. We have eyes that get tired, and legs that cramp, and ears that can only hear certain kinds of sounds. We have to sleep for 8 hours every day, and we have to eat food a few times every day or else we get cranky. And this recognition and understanding of our humanity can inform the way we design our work-surfaces and work-products.

    To me, this recognition of our humanity is the central premise of "design thinking", and everything else we do as designers should be in service of that goal.

    Enjoy!

    4 points
  • Tom PettyTom Petty, over 2 years ago

    Totally agree — too much focus on what is or isn't right, not enough on encouraging designers to build their own 'judgement muscle', and to apply that in each situation.

    I actually wrote a post on this last year: Building the Judgement Muscle (Medium)

    A relevant snippet:

    From sketching to Sketch-ing, mocking-up to coding-up, the community has been flooded with opinions and best practices about which tool or technique to use, how, and when. If you’re just getting into the industry, it’s got to be a little daunting. From speaking to new designers, it seems the current zeitgeist has created the impression that there’s a right way to approach a problem (and with that comes the implication that there’s a wrong way). Attempts to avoid the wrong approach are leading us to focus on how to design, instead of what (or even why, but more on that another time).

    4 points
    • Steven CavinsSteven Cavins, over 2 years ago

      Good article, 10/10.

      1 point
    • Jake FlemingJake Fleming, over 2 years ago

      Nice, Tom! It definitely can be daunting just starting out as a designer with the amount of tools, methods and opinions. But I think that's actually a good thing. I do believe it's on the designer to form their own opinions about tools. I just think we can do a better job at writing useful articles to help people form those opinions.

      1 point
  • Charlie McCullochCharlie McCulloch, over 2 years ago

    Well said. Any creative tool is only as good as the collective judgement of the people using it in the first place. Teams that don't have a strong bond, shared goals, and mutual respect will always churn out crap whatever tools they use. Its crazy how many companies try to fix poor relationships with software tools.

    2 points
  • Katelyn Caillouet, over 2 years ago

    Just a couple weeks ago, I had convinced my team to try out a GV Design Sprint. We were on day 1 and it was going pretty well. I browse the internets during lunch break and see a freshly published article: "Google Design Sprints are Snake Oil."

    smdh.

    2 points
  • Clarke HyrneClarke Hyrne, over 2 years ago

    Company: "We came up with these personas ..."

    Company: "We do Agile Design..."

    Company: "Let's increase our UX..."

    Company: "Empathy"

    Semantics

    1 point
  • Adam SzakalAdam Szakal, over 2 years ago

    I completely agree with you. The tools that have survived throughout the decades, probably has done so because they have been proven useful.

    The wave of hot takes on why you shouldn't use established tools are really a weird phenomena though. I feel like it's often just people trying to come up with click-baity articles – since so much has been said on why personas (or whatever they might be bashing) are useful, the easy route to generate an intersting headline is to just find a flaw of the method and blow it out of proportion, letting people know that that specific flaw is not only making you do a worse job, but also ruining your muffins in the oven, making your skin dry and making America less great.

    Or whatever.

    1 point
    • Jake FlemingJake Fleming, over 2 years ago

      I don't think just because a tool is established that it can't be phased out or rendered obsolete in favor of another. We see that all of the time. My argument is more around the misuse of those tools and blanket advice based on that misuse.

      Man, don't ruin my muffins!

      0 points
  • Richard BallermannRichard Ballermann, over 2 years ago

    I had the same urge to write something like this after reading the Invision blog the other day. I couldn't believe that the author (or someone proofreading) didn't recognize that the problem being described had nothing to do with personas but that those who created them openly admitted "we made them up". I'm all for opposing points of view but this was one of the more ignorant things I've ever read.

    I don't think we realize the gravity of the internet being used as a platform to spread our ideas far and wide. It can have some really powerful and not always positive consequences when opinions can be thrown out across the world in an instant.

    1 point
    • Jake Fleming, over 2 years ago

      Yep, totally. Like I said, I'm sure most people writing articles like this are trying to help people learn about these tools, but in certain instances they might also be leading people down the wrong path.

      0 points
  • Steven CavinsSteven Cavins, over 2 years ago

    I do feel bad for anyone starting out in any profession that has to deal with this kind of gatekeeping, particularly when it comes to tools. Likewise, this sort of culture actually influences young designers to become hyperbolic in order to make a name for themselves because that's what the cranky old men on Twitter do.

    Though this will never change, I think it's important to keep tabs on your signal v noise ratio and keep challenging your cognitive biases as much as possible. It's still super important to weigh the pros and cons: in fact, before I use a tool or even buy a book, I like to read the bad reviews first. All encompassing positivity and participation ribbons isn't helpful to anyone either.

    0 points
  • Corin EdwardsCorin Edwards, over 2 years ago

    But, articles written by well-known companies and designers that shit on tools that actually do a pretty good job at ensuring a decent design as long as you use them correctly, are damaging to the design community, especially designers new to the industry. These articles limit new designers' perceived options for solving a problem, because of another team's failure to utilize a tool correctly.

    This seems like a pretty weaselly argument to me.

    You've already decided that celebrity elites are shitting on your preconceived notions, and you're angry that their opinions are wrong.

    Damaging to the community? Really?

    If these people are wrong then they're nothing more than mistaken. Their opinions are down on paper and ready to be challenged in the marketplace of ideas. Presuming that a tool can't be flawed is just as narrow an outlook.

    0 points
    • Jake FlemingJake Fleming, over 2 years ago

      Here's an analogy:

      Say, I'm looking for a book. You work in a library right? You can help me. I'm counting on you. I don't know much about libraries other than they've got books, computers, late fees. Stuff like that. I just know I want a book to read that helps me learn how to make a kite. Here's your advice to me:

      "One book you should definitely not read is 'Making Kites'. I read that book, made up my own design and didn't check it with the book's design and my kite didn't fly! It was stupid! I talked to this other guy that did the same thing. You should never read that book."

      A person who has also read that book and over hears our conversation might say:

      "Wow, that is really bad advice. It doesn't even seem like you read that book. I read that book, followed the directions and my kite flies great. You should really learn how to follow the directions in that book before you give advice to people on whether or not they should read it."

      If you still aren't getting my argument, please read on.

      I brought up well-known designers and companies, because they have a larger influence in the design community. That's just a fact. Newer designers read these articles that are saying this or that tool sucks, because I sucked at using it and say to themselves, "Oh I guess that tool sucks." They might go on with their day/foreseeable future never considering that tool again until they encounter its proper use in the wild or are asked about their opinion on that tool in an interview. Often times that leaves them looking like a dummy, especially if they give the opinion and reasoning from some of these articles. So yeah, it's damaging. Really. Absolutely. 100%.

      I work with new designers every single day who are looking to seasoned designers for guidance. A lot of the time, that guidance is found in a blog article. There are so many articles, enough to prompt me to start this discussion, that advocate to not use personas (or another tool/method) because the person trying to use them just made something up and then made a bunch of decisions without validating those assumptions throughout the process. I'd really love to hear your thoughts on how this is good advice.

      Tools have flaws. All of them. I'm not arguing to not write articles about the flaws of design tools. I'm arguing to not give shitty advice.

      It really is an amazing time to be a designer. I'm glad so many people are writing about design and I truly believe all of the articles I come across are written to be helpful. However, I think some of them fail at being helpful to their readers.

      6 points
  • Tor Løvskogen BollingmoTor Løvskogen Bollingmo, over 2 years ago

    On the contrary, I appreciate reading negatives about a method. It gives me more insight into the weaknesses and how people might (mistakenly) conceive it. Ex. the criticism of Personas in light of jobs-to-be-done has made me move away from making Personas, and instead use other ways of research synthesis – and it helped me focus on the important bits of customer research.

    0 points
  • Slavo Glinsky, over 2 years ago

    I thought I am only one, who hates short, bold and articles considering only one side of a thing. I would rather suggest you, to look for long-reeds, where writer have a place to consider both sides of the same coin.

    0 points