Blocking in Design

The online world is a tumultuous playground. Every year sees new emergent social platforms, the existing ones are reaching enormous sizes. The hunger games for connectivity and others’ attention is getting huge. Our everyday lives are being shaped by unquestionable social forces. They also have a crucial influence on the work designers do.

We need to let our minds play between our own ideas. Forming our own opinions and taking ownership of our beliefs are essential for problem solving. It is getting harder with existing ideas and solutions flowing all around on the internet. Harder, but not impossible. It’s all about timing.

Emotion Automation

The technology era affected our communication channels in a weird way. Social media has granted us powers that changed our society’s behaviour tremendously in a relatively short period of time. Novelty technologies and innovations are making us connected and isolated at the same time. People happen to be within our close reach, yet we tend to put less effort in reaching them.

The world has become connected, so has art and design. Online mass consumption has its footprints on the way we handle information and emotions, amongst others. It’s much easier to express our reactions with dedicated tools.

You love deciding on which pictures, brands, products or people you like on social media. However, you would probably hate to show your preference in a more complex way. Imagine you’d have to explain your reason for a like in a short message, each time. Isn’t it easier to press that like button?

Our emotions are being automatised until a point where we would lose control. Losing control is frightening. We design systems that make our struggle more seamless, but leaves us with the power to control our choices.

But is a like worth a beautiful, verbal compliment? It most certainly won’t save the endangered panda babies out there.

Designers are perfectionists by nature. We’re our own worst critics. We use the social tools produced by the fast paced technological evolution too. Moreover, we tend to put our trust in our virtual big brother, the eternal source of knowledge and inspiration, the home of wisdom, the internet.

We can text or talk both to our closest friends living in our proximity and absolute strangers in seconds, without limitations. Thus, the amount of information we produce and need to digest is insane. Just open your browser. The internet is an endless vortex of inspiration and information. And well, misinformation and bullshit.

Going Online for Inspiration?

After browsing through hundreds of beautiful pieces of work on sites like Behance or Dribbble, we almost feel like we’ve been involved in the creation process. It’s an oddly satisfying feeling, almost like we’ve designed those gems. When you like, pin or appreciate something, a part of it becomes yours. It becomes a part of your collection. This collection inspires and defines you.

How do your clocks look like?

Yet, if growing to big, this attitude can block our own thoughts. It’s easy to drift into other directions, blindly following others. It’s interestingly similar to how group brainstorming relates to individual brainstorming.

During brainstorming sessions people often pay too much attention to others. They don’t generate ideas of their own. Even worse, they forget these ideas while they wait for their turn to speak. This is called blocking.

When we brainstorm on our own, we don’t have to deal with other people’s opinions. For example, an idea we’d hesitate to bring up in a group could develop into something special when we explore it on our own.

However, we may not develop ideas to their full potential when we’re on our own. We don’t have the wider experience of others to draw on.

The internet is an open marketplace of ideas and solutions. However, these solve specific problems, which are most of the time not completely ours. Some of the stuff we scroll through are not results of deep understanding and well-thought processes.

They are the trojan horses of design, they are art.

The designer’s mind hungers recognition. As a citizen of the digital world, you can upload your work to online galleries and hunt for others’ attention. It’s becoming hard to kick ourselves out in open isolation, because of fear of failure and disappointment.

You might forget who others are though. The critics or admirers are often not the real users of the bespoken product. They just scroll through a bunch of inspirational stuff like we do. It’s only a matter of a few seconds that your work has to stand out. This makes designers focus on aesthetics.

Designing for recognition is the wrong way. Digital design is concerned with how things work in the digital ecosystem, and the nature of interaction between human beings and technology.

Artists or Designers?

All this leads to common questions amongst creatives. What does it mean to be an artist or a designer? What differentiates them?

Let’s draw a clear line between the two.

Artists aim for aesthetics. Their ultimate goal is self-expression. They express their feelings, thoughts and emotions through their fantastic art. It’s not easier to be an artist, it’s different.

Designers on the other hand solve complex problems. No matter if you’re designing a car, a wheelchair, toilet pumps or user interfaces, you solve specific problems. You use your user’s needs as a starting point. Moreover, you might revolutionise how things work.

Now part of providing a great user experience is aesthetics, no doubt about that. Products should be beautiful and enjoyable. But, as Don Norman once wrote, attention must also be paid to the quality of engineering, ergonomics and interaction.

While on a hunt for recognition, focusing on functionality over aesthetics might seem like pissing against the wind. They should be of equal importance. Aesthetics is what drives users to the product, and functionality is what keeps them engaged. When it comes to products people actually use, keeping both in mind will pay off. Big time.

To Appreciate or Not To Appreciate?

Appreciate. Of course it is a pleasure to give feedback in the form of a simple click. However, always differentiate these from the actual feedback of those actually using your product.

Let me quote Matias Corea, the cofounder of Behance.

For website design, I don’t look at other websites. That’s a terrible thing. That’s why we’re making the same website over and over and over. In 2007, when designing Behance, there was nothing else like it on the Internet. I had to make it up, so I used my common sense based on all of my previous experience. We made a lot of mistakes, but slowly we polished it. Designers need to trust their potential to create more. Having so much information available is not good.

Final Thoughts

I’m not saying it’s a sin to look at others’ work. You just need to give your creativity the chance it deserves. Dare to go offline for a while. There will always be a definite need for inspiration in creative work, but don’t let inspiration take over the wheel.

Like in group brainstorming, perhaps you need some time on your own before you let others play with your ideas.

Once you’ve finished, let others join. External knowledge broadens your horizons on the problem you’re solving. You can build even more fantastic things on top of these ideas, together.

Holding a different opinion? Let me know your thoughts about inspiration for designers. They’re more than welcome.

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