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For the design food chain

If business argues for how and why of a message or an extra field on the sign up form and if it asks design to justify, this is not how design works.

In this post, I use the word designer for all product designers, content designers, interaction designers, and others in the adjacent disciplines who work on designing the digital products for interface, architecture, content, and the business itself.

Organizations hire designers because they have some clarity on what they want to sell, and how it should look and work. They have some evidence, some data, some experience, and they have plans. Sometimes, they have leaders too.

Good designers bring their own methods to the work for how they validate the product stories and bring structure and clarity in designing the product. Since we think that we make things clear and we help our teams to make better products which in turn helps the customers too, we feel happy about our work.

We love it when our work goes live and people use it, and when they are happy to use our work. In some organizations where design is valued and rewarded for its role in their goals and growth, not everyone in the organization understands what we might have gone through to make it work. If the product is doing well because it is designed well, the designers’ work may or may not be enjoyable there. This is because the organizations do not really acknowledge the role of a well designed onboarding in their success. Marketers bring the audience and sales convert them to a paying customer. The early days of the customer’s time in the product is considered as a given because certain code is working somewhere. It is not about the credit, it is about adding meaning and relevance to the sales enablement.

  • Design is not in the design. Design is in discussions, in questioning the assumptions, in drawing the data points, in removing that extra field on the form, in the sales enablement, in co-validating what we are trying to do and how it helps everyone.
  • Design is not in our superior arguments because we understand design, and it is not in conference talks either. Design is when others help the designers to design better by giving them the benefit of doubt because we cannot argue about every pixel, line or word because we hate to treat it as Mathematics where every reason has a reason. Design is about practices too because the humans who will see or use our design might see it very very subjectively and arbitrarily.
  • Design is not in the containers, it is about the message first, and then architecting the message, and then choreographing the layers of the message for the architecture. Design is about the judgment too just as the architects tend to plan the ventilation spots on a new wall purely on their judgment. Organizations kill the scope of fresh air when they ask the why at every step in design and when they cannot even explain why they are questioning it.
  • Design is not about the design systems or standards, it is about the belief system that small wins with the right attention to details make ways for the big wins—just as in our relationships.

Design is about the culture of designing even without the culture, for upholding our standards even if we are lonely because we are unforgiving in how limited-dimensional design perspective can hurt an entire chain—the design food chain because we are the producers as well the consumers of our own work. Design is about working in the design food chain for the design food chain.

Technologically, design is about the movements, how people use their thumb, hands, and arms, and how long they can sit and wait for the image upload to finish before they see a stupid error message. This is about the usability on the interface.

Design is about the smell too, when they can smell that the customer support engineer may not pick their phone. This is about the design expectations and promises.

Design is about touch too when they need to tap a select list three times to select a country and rub their hands in ecstasy before they try again in the hope because their significant other is waiting in the cab downstairs. In some cases, digital design can be like the touch therapy that we hear as if working for a new born baby when the mother touches them. This is about the context and the timeliness of design.

If you are giving your best but your organization does not recognize it at the right time and they think that their policy and metrics are written in a stronger and better typography, that is a leadership failure. They are in the unknown unknowns because they do not know how poor design hurts everyone and everything much beyond our spreadsheets and customer sentiment. They hire a sales VP or a CMO to fix something which cannot help their bottomline holistically.

Fancy is not necessarily usable.

Affordable does not necessarily mean useful.

Fixing a leak does not mean that the adjacent leaks are also fixed.

Design needs to lead organizations. The technology roadmaps, product roadmaps, growth roadmaps, product marketing roadmaps—none of these can send me an OTP to a one-digit phone number. And if we blame the Twilio APIs for not sending the OTP, this is a system failure caused by the design failure funded by the leadership failure.

Our budget for the user research can set up the templates but these serve only as the directions of why we work. If business argues for the how and why of every FAQ or for an extra field on the sign up form and if it asks design to justify it, this is not how design works. We do not need to congressify every design decision—human judgment has helped every civilization in the world so far to move forward for their own understanding and experience and they never had a dashboard.

Design does not always need to validate all the business arguments because the way users look at a product and how they prepare themselves for the interactions is not an exact science. Whatever science it is, it is changing faster than our speed of adding new messages, tokens, or icons to our design systems.

We are slow because either we do not ask at all and it wastes everyone’s time or we get into too many discussions to validate every interaction or decision. Even when the culture does not support it, we can. Design. Content design. Interaction design. Interface design. Business design. Organization design. Canvas design. Vision design. We need to position our judgment and common sense better. For the design food chain.

This topic is part of my advanced course in product content strategy, content design, and UX Writing. See the course details for how we can find and add more meaning to our work.

PS: For the last few weeks, I have been writing four posts in a week, Monday to Thursday. Today’s post is the only post in this week. I will resume writing and publishing on next Monday now.

Vinish Garg

Vinish Garg

I am Vinish Garg, and I work with growing product teams for their product strategy, product vision, product positioning, product onboarding and UX, and product growth. I work on products for UX and design leadership roles, product content strategy and content design, and for the brand narrative strategy. I offer training via my advanced courses for content strategists, content designers, UX Writers, content-driven UX designers, and for content and design practitioners who want to explore product and system thinking.

Interested to stay informed about my work, talks, writings, programs, or projects? See a few examples of my past newsletters—All things products, Food for designInviting for 8Knorks. You can subscribe to my emails here.

Vinish Garg is an independent consultant in product content strategy, content design leadership, and product management for growing product teams.