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5 things every designer should think about in 2017

Sam Burke's Layout avatar

Reflections and wishes are common this time of year. At the turn of every 365 days, we celebrate what has passed and look forward to what lies ahead. Hopes and dreams. Successes and regrets.

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I’ve never been a fan of those New Year’s resolutions though, to be honest. I’m a fan of improvement and creating a plan. New Year’s resolutions tend to be a bit more focused on a lofty goal rather than something achievable or motivating. Having New Year’s hopes, however…that’s something I find useful. Hope drives us intrinsically. It gives us a purpose. I have many hopes this coming year for design, and I want to share them with you, even get your opinion.

2017 already seems to be trending with a sounding sentiment: we need change. I see it in conversations around development. Discussions on virtual reality. Design. Education. Politics. Culture. People.

But change can only be created by the people, for the people.

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This is my biggest hope for design. What we create plays such an incredible role in influencing our cultures, societies, and economies; how they grow, ebb, and flow. It’s so important we take deep consideration into how our designs will affect us and why we should design something, not just that we can. It’s easy to fall into the trap of solving for “what can I make” and “how can I make it (better).” Ralph Ammer says it perfectly in his post “Interaction Design is dead. What now?

“In an avalanche of ever-accelerating trends the main questions of the technological designer have been: “What can we do with technology?” and “How can we do it?”

There is not much room for open questions like: “Why should we do it?”

I get the fun in making because you can, I really do. I’m privy to it as well. And there’s an odd paradox here because in order to get better at designing, we must make things to practice. But we still can choose the purpose of this practice, and what we ultimately design. And in order to help create the change we need – not just want – in 2017, I’m hopeful we can start designing with the five following things in mind.

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Just because we can doesn’t mean we should

I see lots of products, websites, apps, and bots being created because there’s a potential “need” or “opportunity,” but we can no longer afford to design without a consciousness of the short and long-term effects of these creations. This doesn’t mean we should stop innovating. It simply means that things like convenience and speed are no longer good enough on their own to justify the creation of something. Both of these – convenience and speed – have deeper effects than we imagined and still know. Instead, we should be solving for the problems that affect us, even if we aren’t aware. We’re not just making things for people anymore. We’re educating them on why it’s important we design what we do, and how it impacts their lives.

Intention matters more than speed-of-delivery

I see so many services popping up that promise practical designs – like logos – quickly and on-the-cheap. $50 for a logo still wows me. I’m not invalidating the legitimacy of these services or their skills. I commend them for being able to create something so detailed in such a short period of time; it’s a testament to technique. But there’s something missing when we remove time from the creation-equation. “Intention – having a plan or purpose – embeds meaning into what we create. ” And with meaning being an important currency in the age of abundance, intention becomes critical to the process of creating value. The issue is that intention cannot be hacked. It requires time, effort, thought, and experience(s), especially to discover and solve for the deepest of problems. If we are to create at our greatest capacity, we must free ourselves from the shackles of time and stop the war on speed.

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You choose what you design. You have the power.

In a design job or project, it can become easy to feel like a cog in an ever-churning wheel. But this is never actually the case. You always choose what you design. This is why you are in this field. You have the power. Even when you’re given a task like “design this holiday card,” you can utilize your opportunity for good, not bad. You can encourage and elevate your company beyond gimmicks. You can create real change. The more we make these choices, the more powerful they become.

Feel less afraid to fail

We’ve collectively created a culture where perfection is more important than practiced, because practicing takes too long. We want it the right way, and right now. This is dangerous because it creates a false correlation between results and process. “There is no perfection without practice, and there is no practice without failure. ” Learning requires mistake making. It’s literally a requirement for improvement. If you want to be innovative, daring, bold, effective – name your buzzword – you have to fail. I struggle with this, too, but I’m getting better at it and used to it. It’s part of life, and ironically one of the best parts. Design to fail, and you’ll eventually succeed.

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Business(es) should always benefit

This is a bit broader than design but, because the “marketing” industry is growing like cray-cray, I think it’s relevant. “Business” and “benefit” are no longer mutually exclusive. Your business has to benefit more than just a profit margin, and therefore your designs have to benefit more than just a bottom-line. I’m not trying to be all goodie-boy here. I’m just laying out some realities. People can tell when you’re trying to push a sale, and they don’t like it. Why do you think we try and do 90% of our shopping without ever talking to anyone? But when someone helps us, like…legitimately helps us (friend, business, stranger), we’re pretty grateful. What’s even better is that helping almost guarantees engagement. Because we live in such a digital world, real connection is becoming scarce. And boy do we love what we don’t have much of. Benefit isn’t just a buzzword anymore. It’s a strategy, and a good one. The world needs it and so do we people.

My hopes are less about easier, cooler, or more innovative ways to do things. I think sometimes we could use a little more hard, helpful, and regular. They seem less common these days.

I’d love to hear what your hopes are for the New Year, what you’d like to see happen in the community, and how you’d like to see the philosophies and practice of design evolve in 2017. I’m excited at the possibilities and confident in our ability to think deeper about what we design and ultimately create.

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