What does a designer do?

“You are a designer? Designer as in Fashion Designer?”
“No I am a different designer. I design experiences, like in the mobile apps you use, I research the target users, create user flows for them, make prototypes based on their behavior and needs, test them and iterate”
“Oh so you are a developer?”

I am a UX Designer and I am formally trained in design research. In my journey in design, both as a student and a design professional, few questions have always been a constant

“ What do you do ? ”

“ What do you do differently than a developer who is not interested/do not know in “design thinking and all that stuff?”

While the conversations I just mentioned above have been answered many times by me based on the technical skills that a typical designer and developer has, I know, that answer is no more relevant. I am learning to code now, and there are many designers, who already code for front end as well as design. There are developers who eventually moved onto become UX designers.

The questions do not always come from the curious relatives or friends, but often from my own home. The question often is

“As a designer how do you contribute in product development. What do you do other than beautifying things?”

If any designer is reading this, I urge them to try to answer this question. Though, this article comes from my perspective and experiences as a UX/ digital designer, I know that those practicing design in any other domain- fashion, interior, product etc. face the similar questions in different forms. Maybe, there work is seen as the fancy work or maybe simply as art. I think the answer to this question is actually the answer to all those things we must do as designers, despite whatever form of design we practice.
A degree in design or an ability to make something pretty does not make you a designer, the difference lies in how a problem is approached, answered and introspected. While there are people who might say that design happens as an exercise to change the colors and typography, once the actual product is made, I believe design happens before, during and even after the product development. This post is not so much an answer to the questions I face, but a constant reminder for what my responsibilities are as a designer.

A Designer designs for a context and based on SOLID RESEARCH

A designer always design keeping in mind the context. Why is this product/service/logo/poster/ anything created. A context provides a framework for design. A designer tries to get answer for these questions:

  • How did the need for this product/service/design originated?
  • What is the problem that I am solving?
  • Who is the target audience — their age, gender, language, geographical location, taste, preferences, likes and dislikes
  • Where will this product/ service/design be sold?
  • Where will this product/service/design be seen?
  • Who are the competitors?
“We have to arm ourselves with data, research, design patterns, and a clear understanding of our users and our content so our decisions are not made out of fear but out of real, actionable information. Although our clients may not have articulated reasons for why they want what they want, it is our responsibility to to have an ironclad rationale to support our design decisions.”
— Debra Levin Gelman

A Designer’s work is always backed by SOLID RESEARCH

A Designer has opinions, bias and favorites but they never affect the design

A design is always doomed to fail, if it is not created keeping in mind the users who are going to use it. That being said, it is the most common practice (malpractice) among many designers. When I was a student, I often used to address a problem with questions like — what would I have done, what would I like and so on. I used a certain typeface because I thought it is pretty. I used a picture on the landing page because it looked good to me.

“Rule of thumb: if you think something is clever and sophisticated beware-it is probably self-indulgence.”
— Donald A. Norman

A designer designs with empathy. That empathy comes from actual interaction and research, not with mere imagination.

A Designer makes something that functions well on all platforms or medium it is supposed to be

I am talking not just about the digital platform, but also the physical areas where these designs will be seen. A good design has a universal appeal. If you design a logo that looks Oh so awesome on the business card but looks shit on your website, be assured you have done a bad job. As a UX Designer, a very important question for me is to know if the product I am designing is a native app or a hybrid app. Maybe build a checklist for yourself next time you design something. Ask your client about what will be the application of the design you created, who will see it and where will it be seen or used.

A good designer designs things that never loose their meaning and appeal across different platform.

A designer asks many “intelligent” questions

I think anyone who has done freelancing will agree, there are few clients who love to collaborate with you, give feedback and are their for you when you need help, and then there are clients, who abandon their projects literally. They expect you to do everything without sharing their own understanding in the field. A designer however, will always ask questions, will keep poking and digging for more, unless he/she has enough knowledge.

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
― Albert Einstein

A designer has a process

There are two kind of designers- good designers and bad designers. And what makes them that is the process. Any product, looks the way it does, feels the way it does, because it underwent a process of understanding, asking, creating, testing, implementing over and again. It is not a quick fix job, focused on just the outcome. A good design is made, when a designer focuses on the process before outcome.

A designer does not always care about the “trends”

A designer will not design something because it is in or in demand. Every design decision has a reason. A good designer will not be afraid to make something which is different than the trends. The designer’s choices are informed by the process and the needs. A designer is willing to not play safe for the sake of the user’s need. That being said, I am not propagating the stereotype of breaking the trends, doing something out of the box and other fancy things that often designers are associated with. On the contrary, I wish to point out that a good designer will alway design things that makes sense to the users.

A designer can deliver his/her vision in the best way possible aka he knows his/her tools well

You may have understood your users in and out, but it will not matter, if you do not use that information to create something. As a designer you must have the technical expertise of the tools you use. A rough sketch, a paper prototype is awesome in the initial stages, but you must be able to show how you view the final product in terms of look, feel and interaction. You cannot be a designer if you do a shoddy job in presenting your idea! Learn anything and everything that helps you deliver your vision. The most important thing however, is to make sure that the photoshop should not be the first thing you open when asked to design something. It should come in the end, after you have done your homework.

Though I am trained in design, I consider myself as a designer not because I have a degree in it, but because I try to keep my users in mind and create my process around them. A developer can practice design if s/he can do all this. I know people who say they are developers, but they work just like designers.

“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”
— Steve Jobs

What do you think, makes a designer a true designer? Did I miss something? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

If you are looking for a UX designer who can help you in building an awesome product, say hello at [email protected]

Thanks for reading!