Develope Design Philosophy Image Credit: Adam Zvanovec Design-philosophy-Adam Zvanovec

How to build a design philosophy

How does building a design philosophy help your designs? Some of the best (and most damning) feedback I received came from my high school art teacher. She said, “to be good, you have to do more than copy.” Years later, my design lead made a similar statement during a peer review. When two different people from different points in my life are saying the same thing, I had to take notice.

The truth was that I was working to complete tasks. I had little foundation to help me develop solid reasoning for my design solutions. In short, I had no clear design philosophy.

A design philosophy comes from studying more than design

Working in startups and small agencies, I learned to work closely with business units that forced me to think outside of the design discipline. I quickly learned how to pitch my work from angles that address business needs, as well as human needs. While I am still formulating a clearer design philosophy, I have constructed a list of the five disciplines that have helped to broaden my perspective.

Study Business

Designers increasingly have a seat at the table. In some cases, designers are leading influential companies. At IBM, we are expected to be the catalyst that will help transform a hundred-year-old company in a highly competitive cloud computing market. To truly communicate our value, we have to understand how designing user-centered solutions addresses the values and goals of our company.

Here is a good foundation article that outlines how to identify and align business and experience design goals.

Build Awareness of Culture and Context

UX is a study of how people interact with technology. As we look into behaviors, then we start to examine culture. Designers, who have an appetite for learning the complexity of culture, context, and communication, will be better prepared to leverage technology to enhance how people interact and communicate.

Geert Hofstede is a great start. His work has helped me build a framework of culture, context, and communication.

Focus on Behavior and Forming Habits

The tech industry is investing a lot of time and money into researching our natural tendencies and where to insert their products or services for adoption. Design is more than the sum of visual screens tied together with interactions. Design is an answer to a user’s habit loops. What pain point triggers a need and how can the product or service fulfill that need?

Hooked by Nir Eyal is a look at how identifying habit loops help determine the best strategy for your product or service.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg examines how we have studied, exploited and even created habits for business.

Learn to Question “Why”

More experienced designers spend more time answering the question, “why are we designing this solution?” At its core, Philosophy questions existence and knowledge. Why is it that we assume certain truths. What does it mean to question them, and how can we form a logical path to solve our real problems? Our work can have a lot of distractions from rising trends. This leads into competing beliefs and complex solutions that do little to help the user.

Studying Philosophy has helped me get better at asking “why.” I like to point people to this podcast from Tim Ferris to dip their toes into the study of Philosophy.

A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek pushed me to examine how I craft better questions.

Embrace Code and Technology

I’ve met great designers who have no interest in code. I’ve met an equal number who are curious about coding at least from a front end perspective. The best designers are the ones who follow their curiosity. Will you be the ‘unicorn’? Probably not. Will you gain a better understanding of the technology behind the products we design? Absolutely.

For the last few months, I have been into Framer. Checkout my post on how I got started.

What is my design philosophy? At this point, my thoughts are still cooking with my growing work experience. As I move more into senior roles and lead more projects, I am forced to look higher up and further out from the task of making wireframes and workflows. I spend more time questioning assumptions and considering the logic of decisions. All of these help me communicate the intent of my work.



Matt Eng

Product Designer at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as IBM, Alcatel-Lucent, Polycom, Symantec and Pebble. Volunteers with AIGA Austin and teaches at Austin Community College.

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