Don’t sleep­walk through your de­sign, ar­gues co-founder of W12 Stu­dios, Michael Al­bers

Computer Arts - - Contents - Is the cre­ative in­dus­try lack­ing cre­ativ­ity? Tweet your thoughts to @Com­put­erArts us­ing #De­signMat­ters

Don’t sleep­walk through your de­signs, pleads Michael Al­bers

What makes the great de­sign­ers great is ded­i­ca­tion to their craft and be­lief in the end prod­uct; their com­plete con­fi­dence in re­search or test­ing as well as the de­sign

Dig­i­tal is new, de­sign is not. In the past 20 years since the ad­vent of com­mer­cial dig­i­tal de­sign, nearly ev­ery part of mod­ern life has been trans­formed by the medium. Yet with so much prod­uct in the pub­lic sphere, no de­sign icons have emerged, no move­ment-lead­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, no dig­i­tal rock­stars mak­ing their mark. Dig­i­tal has no Peter Behrens, Le Cor­bus­ier or Alexan­der Mc­Queen. In­stead the in­dus­try is sat­u­rated with car­bon-copy de­sign built from best prac­tice, not vi­sion.

As bud­ding de­sign­ers-to-be, we be­gin our ed­u­ca­tion within in­sti­tu­tions that cel­e­brate di­ver­sity and col­lab­o­ra­tion. De­sign dis­ci­plines are mixed to­gether within classes. Cri­tiquing your fel­lows is en­cour­aged to ground you, push your think­ing and self aware­ness. There is a naked be­lief and am­bi­tion that de­sign can save the world. En­ter­ing the stage of com­mer­cial de­sign, we hit the ground and run straight into quan­ti­fy­ing de­liv­er­ables, repli­ca­tion and cod­i­fy­ing ‘what makes good de­sign’.

De­sign is said to be about prob­lem solv­ing. When we think of truly great de­sign, we think of work that breaks the mould, work that cham­pi­ons cre­ativ­ity, ideas and vi­sion. In dig­i­tal we en­able our users, ex­pand their abil­i­ties, mak­ing tech­nol­ogy use­ful while bring­ing a little added joy with ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion. The prod­ucts we de­sign live in the world and are part of peo­ple’s ev­ery­day lives. In­stead of ap­proach­ing each brief with the pas­sion, craft and cre­ativ­ity of other de­sign dis­ci­plines, dig­i­tal of­ten re­verts to a world of Post-it note process, the­o­ret­i­cal strat­egy, work­flows and buzz­words. Re­search, test­ing and strat­egy re­place rather than in­form ideas. The out­come is a con­veyor belt of cloned de­signs, fol­low­ing the same tried and tested for­mu­las. Each it­er­a­tion adding more fea­tures, more but­tons, more con­tent and more lev­els of com­plex­ity.

The Di­eter Rams de­sign phi­los­o­phy of less is more could not be more apt. The process for de­sign­ing a dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence has be­come elab­o­rate and clumsy. We have lost the fo­cus and vi­sion be­hind what de­sign­ers are here to do. What makes the great de­sign­ers great is ded­i­ca­tion to their craft and a re­sound­ing be­lief in the end prod­uct. Their com­plete con­fi­dence in re­search or test­ing as well as the de­sign.

At W12 Stu­dios our de­sire is to solve prob­lems with beau­ti­ful and sim­ple de­sign. Our ap­proach to­wards dig­i­tal de­sign hon­ours our tra­di­tional de­sign roots. I started my ca­reer as a fur­ni­ture de­signer, my co-founder, Fabian Birgfeld, comes from an ar­chi­tec­ture ground­ing and we hire peo­ple that don’t fit the de­sign agency mould, peo­ple with dif­fer­ing de­sign back­grounds. The va­ri­ety of in­ter­ests, skills and in­di­vid­ual his­to­ries ig­nites fresh per­spec­tives and an ex­cite­ment to be ad­ven­tur­ous as well as build on and trans­fer our col­lec­tive tra­di­tional prac­tice.

We aim to un­der­stand the con­text by work­ing with our client to de­fine the brief and what suc­cess will look like. We cre­ate a vi­sion of the prod­uct, ex­plor­ing con­cepts, themes, pat­terns and the brand nar­ra­tive. We pro­to­type the de­sign and en­cour­age a cul­ture of cri­tique to con­tin­u­ally re­fine. At the heart of our ap­proach is our faith in the hero moment: the prod­uct’s rea­son for be­ing; where watch­ing video is to Net­flix as boil­ing wa­ter is to a ket­tle. We com­bine the va­ri­ety of our crafts, our ideas, in­spi­ra­tions and skills to cre­ate a vi­sion that puts the hero moment at cen­tre stage. While we are keeping our eyes on the stars, we re­mem­ber to make it real. Our de­signs are more than fea­tures and in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, they want to make a dif­fer­ence in the world.

We don’t have all the an­swers to the fu­ture of dig­i­tal de­sign but we do have prin­ci­ples that are unique to us. Be bold, cut out the clut­ter and take out the noise. To be bold it is im­por­tant to have an opin­ion, to crit­i­cise, de­bate and de­velop. Be provoca­tive and chal­lenge per­cep­tions around you. Ask what is beauty? Care about your craft and your clients will care too. Per­fec­tion is im­pos­si­ble, there will al­ways be more process and more sti­fling re­vi­sions. Get the prod­uct done, get it out there to be used as a test bed to con­tin­u­ally im­prove. Aim for Milton Glaser’s wow. In­vok­ing an emo­tional re­sponse is what cul­ti­vates de­sire. Be vi­sion­ary, think about de­sign holis­ti­cally and look be­yond your­self to gain in­spi­ra­tion.

There is al­ways a balance to be found be­tween ide­al­ism and re­al­ity, prof­itabil­ity and blue-sky think­ing. While I would love to be the one to say that the de­sign should al­ways win and client lim­i­ta­tions don’t ap­ply, that isn’t re­al­is­tic as a ser­vice busi­ness. That be­ing said there is a unique op­por­tu­nity right now for us as dig­i­tal de­sign­ers to carve out the fu­ture di­rec­tion of this in­dus­try and set bench­marks for gen­er­a­tions to come. The only way we will achieve this is if we start ques­tion­ing the process, re­sist the urge to jus­tify ev­ery de­ci­sion with data and dare to take dig­i­tal de­sign off au­topi­lot.

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