2021 may not be easier, but let's go exploring
The future of our work isn't best practices, it's exploration and imagination.
I. Welcome back & follow up!
Good Morning and Happy New Year! Thank you again for inviting me into your inbox. Or if this is your first time, welcome all the same! I write about insights and provocations on the evolving nature of digital design. You can always subscribe here.
Follow up: I received a few comments on the last newsletter asking if having the internet reflect countries borders as opposed to cross border would be that much of a negative or regression. The main concern I have is it would inherently limit what has made the internet great, which is reach and democratization of information. By conforming to individual countries and governments, I worry we are allowing the internet to become a stronger arm of the Government - for example the restrictions on journalism you see in China, Saudi Arabia, or the Philippines. I do support Zuckerberg’s view of giving individuals around the world a voice as the 5th estate. I also understand the issues that have come with that - conspiracy theories, rising nationalism, cross border hate groups, anti-vaxxer information, and more. However while those are extremely problematic, I don’t believe it should be a positive vs. negative, but rather that the two sides exists, and how to curb poor behaviour on the negative side without erosion of the positive side. These are the types of wicked problems I hope to see more designers engage in over the next decade.
There is much more to write on the subject, which perhaps we can cover in future newsletters.
II. Building our imagination
During the December holiday time, our studio closes for two weeks as part of a long standing cultural tradition. During this time I enjoy spending time reflecting on the past year, and thinking about the upcoming year. Where we want to take the studio, how we think of growth, how we build a stronger team, and how we improve our work. It’s one of the great times I get to stretch my imagination thinking of different scenarios.
Looking back, 2020 might have been the year that no one wanted, but perhaps one we needed.
As designers, we often work in standards - systems, patterns, best practice, and heuristics. New interactions or novel processes are often met with concern over usability, understanding, and outcomes. We find ourselves reverting to standards to avoid concerns over users difficulties.
For the most part, as designers, we have been playing it safe. I wonder as we have solidified our process, have we forgot how to be curious about exploration?
Yet in 2020, we were forced to explore - how we work, how we live, how we socialize, how we shop - and all of these in some way touched on the need for design. 2020 could be seen as a proxy for rekindling our drive to explore.
While 2020 brought a myriad of challenges, as we look back, a different way to view it would be that we were so certain about everything, until we weren’t. One year ago many companies would have said that working remote couldn’t be done successfully. One year ago the idea of getting a vaccine completed and rolled out in under a year would be been impossible - it can’t be done! Like the follow-up above, this hasn’t been without substantial pain, but let’s not throw away what we have learned because of that pain.
When I look back, what I see is we created our own limits. Like with design, we were so entrenched in standards, we missed opportunities to try new things - until we had to.
What blocked us from building our imagination? Why do we assume one outcome is inevitable and hinder our own ability to explore new and novel ideas or ways of working?
Even as we went fully remote, companies often clung to current styles and didn’t rethink how to work. As designers, we always start with looking at the context, users, and needs. However I rarely saw an ability for us to apply it to ourselves. We applied the physical office working model to a remote situation creating a new set of unneeded challenges. Zoom fatigue, loneliness, and difficulties for parents set in early on.
Instead companies could have looked at new methods of async working, different working hours, different tools, and different decision making processes - but we didn’t. Even as we know we can adapt, we still cling to our old styles of working.
I found myself asking as I looked back over the year, if we unencumbered ourselves from what exists - our current best practices and assumptions. What could we do? Our first inclination when we see something new is to apply what we know to it. We become so adjusted to specific ways of approaching a problem, it’s all we can imagine.
Our best practices and patterns that served us well in previous situations become our own limitations in new situations. As designers, let’s look at 2020 as a year we had to use our imagination in new ways. Let’s see it as a foundation towards how we build futures without being boxed in by what came before us.
I would challenge every designer to embrace the ability to question how we work as designers - how we work as teams, how we think of the design process, and how we in building our designs. As we think of 2021, let’s embrace exploration. What could we achieve if we started at first principles and asked “How do I create something with what exists now, not what has existed before?”
Design systems, best practices, and processes are great until it becomes impossible to see any other way of working.
III. New Software tool of the week
No analysis or judgement, simply a new nice application for everyone to check out each week
Otter has been our go-to tool for transcriptions of research interviews for the entire year.
Want to talk? Catch me on Twitter.