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The 5 Habits of Highly Effective Designers

Ravi Rajan is a program director working in India. He writes articles on management, creativity, and creating user-centric design philosophy

At its core, design is all about people. That is the very reason that designers need to play a balancing act between the four pillars of logic, cognitive science, creativity, and empathy.

At its core, design is all about people. That is the very reason that designers need to play a balancing act between the four pillars of logic, cognitive science, creativity, and empathy.

Maximum Meaning, Minimalistic Design

What is common between Massimo Vignelli, Milton Glaser, and Abram Games?

They are all iconic designers and proponents of the design philosophy “Maximum meaning, minimalistic design.”

Massimo Vignelli is considered by many as one of the most influential designers of the past century. A self-proclaimed ‘information architect,’ Vignelli transformed large ideas into simpler, understandable formats through design. This is visible in his 1972 redesign of the New York City Subway Map, whereby he chose an experimental design that proved incredibly effective.

Milton Glaser is the creator of the iconic “I Love NY” branding and logos for JetBlue and Target. He believed in a design philosophy that made a viewer or user the pivotal point for the success of any design. A design should be simple enough for the user to understand exactly what he sees. “They get the idea because that act between seeing and understanding is critical,” Glaser says.

Abram Games was an official WWII artist who is well recognized for his hundreds of punchy, politically-driven poster designs. Games’ work set the trend for designers everywhere by conveying that a design should communicate exactly what it is intended for and also be simple, clean, and direct.

That said, when you see carefully, everything around you starts from a design.

Your desk, house, phone, the amazing website you use for shopping and even that cute stress buster ball you play with for hours when you start running out of ideas. This is how important designers are. And good design pushes the boundaries of creativity and technology to solve daily problems.

And at its core, design is all about people. And when we talk about people, we even include everybody, from the user who has clicked your website to the backend developer who is creating a new app for your application. The whole idea of good design is to create unique experiences for people whom a designer may never ever meet in his lifetime.

The Four Pillars

That is the very reason that designers need to play a balancing act between the four pillars of logic, cognitive science, creativity, and empathy. And successful designers cultivate a set of powerful habits that help them to achieve the same seamlessly.

These habits make them efficient and productive in their area and help them be adaptable and follow a user-centered approach to give the best possible experience to the user.

5 Powerful Habits of Successful Designers:

  1. They go beyond the 3-click rule
  2. They seek inspiration every day
  3. They design for emotional connections
  4. They empathize with others
  5. They are always in the learning mode
They Go Beyond the 3-Click Rule

They Go Beyond the 3-Click Rule

1.They Go Beyond the 3-Click Rule

The 3-click rule states that users should be able to find what they want in three clicks. The theory assumes that the fewer users need to click, the less they will like the site, and subsequently, they will move off to easier sites.

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The fact is that; this concept is wrong. Joshua Porter, a graphic designer conducted a series of tests that showed no correlation between user dissatisfaction and the number of clicks and that users were no more likely to give up after three clicks than they were after ten.

And despite this, designers fall into this trap and try to load everything up front in the user interface to cover everything. This results in a cumbersome and confusing interface, which does more harm than good.

Instead, a good design should strive to make each click count rather than putting a limit of three clicks. Chas Grundy, the UX expert calls this the "one-click" rule, which states that every user should be one step nearer to his destination after every click thus making every click functional.

Remember, what really counts to a user is the ease of navigation. The user will never mind the number of clicks as long as he can get the information he wants in an organized way.

2. They Seek Inspiration Every Day

Creativity is a funny business. It does not come to you when you stare at a blank sheet of paper but in torrents when you start looking around and seeking inspiration from the objects around you.

There are multiple ways to be creative. You can start with a few designers who inspire you to do your best and learn more about their technique, journey, and inspirations. Go back to their work every so often, especially during those times when you are in a creative rut. Another way can be to get inspired by nature all around you.

Everything in nature, from a bumblebee to a rainbow, has a defined purpose, and nothing is wasted. The whole environment of nature is one big innovation engine with all species given certain characteristics that give it a distinct advantage to adapt and survive in their ecosystem.

For example, Leonardo da Vinci applied nature laws to his Fibonacci Series and Golden Ratio. Salvador Dali’s 1955 piece, The Sacrament of the Last Supper, is a remarkable specimen of religious imagery, harnessed from the algorithms of nature and communicated to the viewers through the canvas medium. The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto’s Pareto principle is firmly rooted in an unspoken rule of nature that 80% of the effects originate from 20% of the causes and so on.

The idea is to align your inspiration to your goals such that it reflects within your work also.

They Design for Emotional Connections

They Design for Emotional Connections

3. They Design for Emotional Connections

Donald Norman has rightly said,

“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”

He identifies three levels of design that designers should incorporate to build emotions in their products. They are based on how our brains work, resulting in a more appealing, effective, pleasurable design.

Visceral design: This focuses on the “look and feel” of the product. It works on our personality and cultural values and determines how we perceive something. A good visceral makes people happy and excited after seeing the product.

Behavioral design: This focuses on the “effectiveness of use.” According to Norman, appearance doesn’t matter, performance does. A good behavioral design has to be understandable and usable. The product needs to have the relevant functions to fulfill user needs.

Reflective design: considers the rationalization and intellectualization of a product. The reflective design defines our overall impression of a product since we reflect on all aspects of it: messages sent, cultural aspects, our upbringing, the meaning of the product, and whether it’s worth remembering and making a part of our life.

So, the appearance of a design defines visceral design. The behavioral level relates to how the product works, and the reflective level relates to the long-term impact of the design in our lives. By combining these three levels in the right way and balance, we can create a product that emotionally connects with the user at all levels.

They Empathize with Others

They Empathize with Others

4. They Empathize With Others

Being a designer rarely means flying truly solo. You need to have the ability to collaborate at all levels.

Being able to listen to others and see things from their perspective truly will not only strengthen your design but will also result in the buy-in of the design from all stakeholders. This will also broaden your insights into creative problem-solving.

For example, if you are working closely with developers, it makes sense for you to empathize with them and include them in the design process as early as possible. Their inputs will determine whether your vision actually has the potential to be doable. Understanding their perspective can save you valuable hours, especially when the design you are working on is a technical nightmare.

As a designer, you need to have the intuitive ability to understand the audience for which you are designing, rather than being swayed by your personal choices and tastes. Designers who can empathize with others and anticipate their needs and desires always turn out to be the most successful ones.

They Are Always in the Learning Mode

They Are Always in the Learning Mode

5. They Are Always in Learning Mode

So, you think you don’t have any more learning to do? The only person you would win over with this sort of thinking is you, more specifically your bloated ego which would get you nowhere.

If there’s one thing that’s true in design, it’s that it is always evolving, always changing. This is why you need to update your knowledge regularly and make sure that you know every new trend and every new tool that comes out.

Identify skills you don’t have or need to work on and add them to a betterment plan that must be executed religiously every day. As Mathew Helme, a web designer and illustrator, aptly says,

“You know everything once you figure out you don’t know everything.”

Team up with other designers and do something that is somewhat out of your reach. Allow yourself to be in a “constructive discomfort” mode to grow your abilities and expand your reach.

Cultivating the ability to anticipate a need and adopting a new skill or piece of information will help you not feel anxious when new challenges arise. Keeping up-to-date with technologies, differentiating yourself from the crowd, and over-delivering is the only way to survive in this cutthroat industry.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has rightly said,

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan

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