You’re Not Designing If You Can’t Explain Your Design Decisions

Note: This is Part 10 of the Ruminations for Aspiring Designers series.

There’s always an explanation behind a design decision, however elusive it may be.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking that good design is somehow magic and it just happens naturally.

Even a good designer’s intuition comes from internalized patterns of expertise and experience.

Making design decisions without explanation is like having sex without consent.

In most other cases, it’s conventionally called “rape”.

In design, it’s called either “incompetence” or “poor management”.

It’s not uncommon that designers feel like being micromanaged because their management think they can design (a.k.a. making design decisions). That’s just a symptom of the management’s chronic lack of respect for the design expertise.

So there are two sides of the matter –

On one side, you have to be able to explain your design decisions, not only to yourself, but also to your stakeholders and clients. And you have to learn how to communicate it.

On the other side, you’d better be super cautious of all those command-and-control demands in the guise of “design feedback” from your peers and maybe especially from your management.

A “rape culture towards design” is perhaps one of the biggest challenges designers face in any organization.

How can we improve?

First, learn to articulate design decisions. If you can’t explain yourself, then nobody is obliged to take you and your design seriously. Yes, it becomes much harder when political, cultural and managerial influences get in the way. That’s part of the job. As a designer, you’re obliged to help others understand good design.

Secondly, learn to do design critique. Discussing design is as important as explaining it. In fact, discussion and debate are essential aspects of any proper design education.

If your work is so fragile that it can’t withstand criticism, it shouldn’t exist.

Mike Monteiro, Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It (p. 21). Mule Books.

Lastly, climb to stand on giants’ shoulders through great design writings and from great design practitioners. It’s never too late to deepen your knowledge and broaden your philosophy.

Can you explain your design decisions well?


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