I believe in good ideas. Design must be concept-oriented, uber-functional, and beautiful.
I believe design = everything. Design is unlimited: be it painting, theatre production, user interface design, or corporate identity, design is cultural. It changes the way we think as a society. Design influences every aspect of our lives and it should make experiences more emotionally engaging and intellectually stimulating.
I believe in clicking and touching. Technology has birthed a new generation of design: our daily interactions with design now take place more often on the screen than in print. Design is the filter between human and machine. Aesthetics and ideas must now be interactive. Yet, our roots are still important: an app should be just as well composed as a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A manifesto of visual design and user experience
As a student studying design, I cannot proclaim that I have a complete grasp on what design should do and how it should exist in our culture. However, during the handful of years that I have been practicing design, I have discovered that I have several strong beliefs regarding the meaning and function of design. The following principles have guided my recent work and provided the structure in which I have begun to grow as a designer.
1. Design prevents technology from taking over. We live in a world increasingly dependent on technology — almost every one of our daily actions consists of an interaction with a machine. Our lives have evolved to the point where we rely on technology for basic intellectual activities, from learning and creating to sharing and maintaining friendships. This reliance has created an abundance of devices and platforms that we use in almost every aspect of our lives. There is no stopping this trend — and to do so would be to halter human creativity and intelligence. However, some say that technology is making us less human. They say we spend more time conversing with each other digitally than in real life, more time using computers than having worthwhile in-person relationships. This very well might be true — but, it's no use trying to run against the bullet train. Rather, I see design as the most effective tool we have to prevent technology from destroying all vestiges of significant connections between people. Rather than preventing the spread and advancement of technology, we can make it more beautiful, useful, and valuable for people in an effort to make it more relevant and meaningful. I believe if our interactions with technology become easier and more intuitive, if the interfaces we click and touch become more beautiful and responsive, if the colors and layout of a software application become more thoughtful and relevant, our experiences with technology will be more valuable to us as a species. Instead of rejecting technology, we will be happy to use a product that is beautifully designed and provides us with a carefully-crafted solution to a real problem. If design focuses on the people behind the devices, not the actual technological platform, design can be the conduit that bridges the interaction gap between human and machine.
2. Design must be useful. Design's main goal should be to solve problems and make things like learning, sharing and connecting easier for people. While technology plays a huge role in shaping the usefulness of design, it goes beyond just the current scope of devices and platforms and touches all parts of life. This attribute of being functional and worthwhile is a core tenet of my design philosophy — in all my work, I try to build things that ultimately aim to help people by providing useful services and tools. Sometimes it's hard to see the value in perfecting every pixel in a user interface, carefully choosing a color palette, or making sure every interaction scenario is given the same amount of attention. Yet, these are what gives projects a human touch. There are projects that aim to make money fast — these tend to be heavily focused on engineering and building a product that works. It might not work especially well, but it may fill a niche problem. These projects don't have a set of beautifully designed user interactions, but rather utilitarian features. I believe design is the way to make a technology product really valuable for people. When you can tell that there was an individual or team thinking about every point of the user's experience, the service becomes more relatable and valuable for its target audience. This includes the implementation as well as the idea. There must be a carefully thought-out implementation, but with out a solid idea that is relevant and meaningful, there is no product. Speaking of ideas...
3. Design must be concept-oriented. You can have the most beautiful user interface, the most semantic, functional code base, and the most responsive user experience design, but without an idea that makes something easier, provides a platform for connecting people in a meaningful way, or solves a real problem in people's lives, a product is a waste of time and effort (and therefore, money). I need to remind myself of this when I get too focused on small aspects of a project and I have to ask myself some of the following questions: Will people use this feature? More importantly, will they find it valuable? Does it make the product easier? Will someone miss this if it wasn't there? The end result forces me to consider each aspect of the project in terms of how it relates to the core idea, which must always be kept in its rightful paramount position. NB: I obviously cannot completely disregard the value of aesthetics and composition in the execution of an idea — these also play integral parts in all forms of design. And beautiful design requires huge amounts of attention paid to these aspects. But, without a core concept that taps into something that everyone can connect to, even the best layout and typography can't save a project without a strong idea.
The words of Part 1 are those of action. The following is an analysis of the aforementioned principles in terms of the way it has guided my work.
Specifically, the following points are in reference to:one of my largest projects this year, Make Happy Happen. The site aims to combat the corporate greed of the holiday season by facilitating personal promises, promoting social networking-powered inspiration, and providing relevant resources to act on individual pledges.
1. Design prevents technology from taking over. Make Happy Happen would not have been possible without technology. While the initial idea for the project consisted of greeting cards would allow individuals to write a promise in a blank space on the card and then post it somewhere to remind them to act on their promise, the Internet provided a much more powerful, relevant medium for the project. And so rather than adding to the clutter of technology-based web services that either aim to make money or do not facilitate real human connections, Make Happy Happen uses technology to inspire people to help others. The platform of the web and social networking has set the stage for products like Make Happy Happen to actually make a difference in people's lives offline and improve the way we interact with our fellow human beings. The project uses its medium as a tool, not a crutch — technology creates a medium for MHH to exist, but it also allows it to be more than just an Internet service: it lets it touch people's lives in a meaningful way.
2. Design must be useful. This aspect is executed two-fold in Make Happy Happen, in both my intentions and implementation. First, I created the project as a way to solve a problem that I saw in during the holiday season, which is that the majority of people become obsessed with shopping and buying needless trinkets that are often thrown away or forgotten by their recipients because they don't provide any relevant usefulness (they should be better designed!). I saw this in contrast to the abundance of homelessness, sickness and loneliness that exists all around us that we ignore in hopes that it will go away without us bringing it into conversation and thought. My answer (not necessarily the only one) to this was to create a way for people to celebrate the holiday season without buying anything, but rather doing good deeds that assist a large percentage of our population for which the holidays are the most trying time of the year. Second, in my implementation of this idea, I sought to create a product that not only facilitates promises, but also provides a way for people to act on these pledges. Making the promise is only half of the solution — fulfilling your promise makes it real and significant. And so, once users made a promise on the site, their words were scanned for keywords and phrases, such as "volunteer at a nursing home" or "visit a children's hospital." If a phrase was detected, the fulfill page, which also offers a general listing of national volunteer and community service organizations, used their location data from Facebook, Twitter or HTML5 to display a map of local resources that could help them fulfill their promise. For example, if a user promised to "recycle more often," the map would show several recycling centers near their location and the contact information for each. In this way, the product provided a useful tool for people looking to volunteer or offer their services during the holiday season, rather than joining the mindless hordes of shoppers, most visible on days like the ridiculous "holiday" of Black Friday.
3. Design must be concept-oriented. Design must be concept-oriented. From the start, Make Happy Happen was a project based on a core idea. While working on the visual design and programming that stemmed out of that idea, I constantly tried to remind myself that every part of the product that I was building should tie back to the original idea. To this end, I tried to keep the project as simple as possible. It was divided into three parts that could be seen as steps which you could jump into at any stage. I continuously made sure that every portion of each part made sense in terms of the larger goal. Every user interface element and code function had to align with the core idea for it to make it into the final product.
I have used Make Happy Happen as a catalyst for further explaining my constantly-evolving principles of design because it represents the genre of projects that I want to work on in the future: projects that use well-crafted design and technology to help people. The fact that these elements can be used to solve real problems and improve human interactions is what provides me with the creative energy to keep producing and exploring design and technology.
This is not the end of this document, for it is a living, constantly-evolving set of design principles that I intend to append and revise as I mature as a designer and continue the path of building useful, valuable projects and applications.
Make Happy Happen aims to spread happiness during the holiday season. It facilitates personal promises, promotes social sharing and inspiration, and provides relevant fulfillment opportunities and resources.
Fall 2011, New York City.
We're still working on this list.