experiences. Engineering is about solutions. Design differs from engineering in where the first strives to be experience-oriented, the second is fine with being result-oriented. However both design and engineering are the fundamental nodes in any creative process. The designer plans a solution based on assumptions and previous knowledge then the engineer develops a solution by applying said knowledge then testing and iterations follows. This isn’t much different from the hypothesis & experiment flow modern Science is based on. What becomes apparent is that designer and engineer are intertwined, non-exclusive roles.
When undertaking the role of consumer, we may not always be aware of the aforementioned model, but we seem to instinctively assume3 that objects around us are results of such previously mentioned testing and iteration use. Keeping in mind that design isn’t about nice typefaces and pretty illustrations, this bias can be vividly seen in cheap food delivery leaflets: bad design attracts more bad design as the public becomes familiar with it.
What is more, designers are not oblivious to this mental barrier. They also tend to get fixated (David G. Jansson and Steven M. Smith, Design fixation [PDF]) on previous solutions (not limited to others’) and thus hinder their own capacity for innovative problem solving.
Design fixation, which may be attributed to the lack of movement between the two spaces (concept and configuration), thereby inhibiting the innovative abilities of design engineers. This may be observed when a designer produces a final design which almost mirrors his or her initially conceived idea because of a rigid cognitive adherence.
— David G. Jansson et al., Cognition in design: viewing the hidden side of the design process.
Research appears to validate the old imperative for creatives: “do not get overly attached to your creations”.
A designer needs to avoid the consumer-role traps and always question current practices. Just because someone did it before, doesn’t mean their solution is intrinsically good, not even if that solution seems popular to their audience. Choosing a known pattern over something innovative yet unfamiliar needs to be a conscious choice.
So if we focus on those tiny details, the ones we may not see and we look at them as we say, “Are those important or is that the way we’ve always done it? Maybe there’s a way to get rid of those.”
— Tony Fadell, The first secret of design is … noticing
The takeaway is that in order to keep an open mind, designers need to scrutinize common solutions to common problems and take for granted as few things as they can. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to suggest that Tony Fadell’s argument could very well become a mantra towards self-improvement. We owe to ourselves to always question whether our preferences —and thus choices— are conscious decisions or automatic repetitions4 of things we’ve grown accustomed to.