Recently, a fairly well known designer bemoaned the practice of designers not working on “real” projects, implying a line between what he’d classify “actual” and “fake” work. He lamented those designing for the sake of practice and/or experimentation—classifying it as more a scourge than a validated form of artistic expression. He even posited a solution for designers who don’t have the work they desire of working for a nonprofit and not feeling the obligation to actually show your work while boasting a verbose portfolio of his own with several high profile clients. Ignoring the prescriptive nature of the post itself, what stood out most to me was its open lambasting of designers who don’t yet have the clientele they desire and offering a somewhat crippling solution. As if he could somehow filter what design was worthy of publishing, be it Facebook or Nike etc., and what design wasn’t fit for the web.
If you’re not taking the opportunity to put yourself out there and, dare I say, “fake” designing for projects that weren’t commissioned, you’re missing out on the valuable opportunity to challenge yourself in new, more creative ways. When I had just started illustrating, I took to getting my hands dirty multiple times a week—work that wasn’t commissioned. Work that no one was asking for. It was done for the sake of experimentation. It was done FOR the sake of attracting prospective clients. And it worked.
Your clients aren’t going to know what it is you’re capable of unless you show them. In my experience, there aren’t too many designers that have been hired to work on a highly trafficked product by looks alone or a really nice “About Me” section. That whole adage about missing all the shots you never take, while admittedly hokey, is admittedly true. You don’t sit back with an empty portfolio and wait for the clients to pour in.
I’d theorize that most of the fuss about this “fake” design is really based on the unadulterated possibilities of pleasing only oneself. With client work, you’re inundated with the specific needs of said client. You have CEOs and prospective customers to make happy. With self-initiated work, you’re free to tackle your process any way you wish. Perhaps some designers who are too busy with “real” work feel that they’re competing with an impossible bar where “fake” designers can propose and publish any solution—even if it dips into a compromise for aesthetics over functionality. That’s going to have to be your call.
It’s your responsibility to make time to work on projects that aren’t reliant on a paycheck—even when you do get a steady workload of clients. Those projects that merely stretch you to create solutions for problems that no one is paying you to solve. Maybe just to create an homage to a particular piece of fiction you hold on high. Truth is, you don’t have to wait for an inquiry to do something you’ve always wanted to do.
There’s absolutely a time to “ship it”. Take advantage of those opportunities when there isn’t.
That being said, there’s a clear difference between self-initiated work and work that riffs off an original design. If you want to discover how a design works, you can take it upon yourself to build it, but in those cases, don’t publish it. Learn from it, don’t claim it as your own.
This post was originally written and appeared on the Envy Labs blog here.
The lot of us self-proclaimed “nerds” in the tech environment can still feel experiential echoes of the moment Tom Cruise donned the “glove” to begin a tech-dance with the G-Speak Spatial Operating Environment in Spielberg’s Minority Report. It was the stuff dreams were made of—whizzing and whirling, manipulating a pulsing, breathing interface with tactile ferocity. John Underkoffler and his team gave legs to a ghost that previously only existed in thought and desire.
Science Fiction finally felt like Scientific History.
But film is one thing, and real life is another. Science Fiction has long been an advocate for progressing the discussion on design and interaction. In architecture, fashion, and technology, sci-fi has shaped our future by lending a hand with the building blocks of actualization. Yet the future we were promised seems all but nearby.
With the announcement of the G-Speak technology at TED2010, this felt more tangible than ever. Following hot in pursuit was the Xbox Kinect, leveraging a similar interactive architecture to allow manipulation of the onscreen UI. And while this digital conversation is bound by the restrictive confines of a television screen, its very commercial existence feels like the beginning of a new dialogue with technology on what’s achievable.
In theory, we’re wading into new territory. In truth, we’re taking our baggage with us.
The challenges we’re working to overcome as designers are diverse, and among them is a battle with our fictional history. We’re adapting the far-reaching, distinctive interfaces of the cinematic realm into usable products for a still-human world. Science Fiction has always been granted the advantage of developing UIs for a universe that embraces a cold, robotic utopia, but designers are not afforded that luxury. Most of us aren’t creating for bio-mechanical interaction where a stream of information as large as the titanic is processed on a dime in the user’s brain. We have increased our bandwidth of information intake by learned user interface intuition, but the limitations still exist.
Even more ironically, our screens are getting smaller!
We’re building products for humans, and while that fact seems to be a hot phrase to use, the implications of building products for this market should seem natural to us. Yet, in a number of cases, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We use words like “intuitive”, putting stock in the learned and natural behaviors of our audience to navigate our products; yet we’re packaging interaction guidelines to teach people how to bookmark, highlight, and turn pages. Over time, our hope is that these motor functions will become second nature.
While we’re still learning to create products for this new chapter in interaction design, let’s take the time to develop systems that work. Apple may have won their patent war, but let’s be mindful that this is arena is far from victorious. For all of their research and brand success, they’re still just a student of the new digital age like all of us. All of the answers aren’t contained within OS X, and they’re not all inside of Metro. These are the beginnings of a great dialogue that will last for a long time. You, as much as I, stand the chance to develop a more intuitive standard for this new relationship with interaction design—and the browser is only the beginning.
We’re not done discovering yet.
Not even close.
As designers, it’s easy to get looped into this idea that style trumps substance. Don’t get me wrong, I think we’d all fight this tooth and nail—arguing for the latter, but actions speak louder than words. And what’s released speaks tenfold for what’s in idealized practice. That’s not to say we’re not actively rethinking interaction design, I think we are, but it seems like we’re getting caught up in where that interaction meets tangible tactility.
This isn’t so much a dismissal of all things skeumorphic, as that’s a conversation that’s been chest-beaten by the most vocal of enthusiasts and skeptics, but more a call to reevaluate the interactions we’re building into our products. Whether you add a two-pixel top light highlight, drop a shadow on your buttons, or keep them completely flat, is a conversation for another commentary. I’m speaking to the way we interact with these piles of pixels on the screen. Is it necessary to swipe a “lever” of sorts? Is it crucial to your information architecture to quite literally have to “fold” an image to peek what’s behind it, or are we just getting tied up in a pissing contest to see who can make the most life-like evocation of our everyday interactions.
We’re forcing our medium to bow to our creative whims.
That’s not to say they can’t be beautiful or won’t catch someone’s eye the first few times, they will and do. But with repeated use, once the wow factor has dissolved into dutiful repetition, these kitschy techniques have a tendency to lose their ostentatious awe.
I’m not here to draw a line in the sand. This is an encouragement to keep pushing, keep thinking. Apple has made incredible progress in the world of interaction design, but it’s still not perfect. They’ve patent protected their work, their research and their results, but that should feel like less of a wall and more a catalyst for innovation.
There are better, more intuitive solutions out there.
Let’s find them.
The state of things isn’t pretty. It’s not easy and it’s typically less than an explosive path up and to the right. But somehow, despite the mess and miscalculations about what our less-than-perfect world should look like, there are those who see something else in spite of it all.
I don’t really “run” a blog on design because in order to do that, I’d have to post regularly. I also don’t always have something I need to say about design—maybe not much of anything at all, for that matter. But today, regardless of how it applies to your life, whether it’s in design or the way you approach failure, rejection or misfortune, practice an uncommon response. One that refuses to sit in the mud. I don’t do this often, but I want to.
Because at the end of the day, when it comes to cynicism, oftentimes you’re right. But it’s a rather joyless victory. I’m learning that one myself.
I was invited by a one Mr. Adrian Walsh to participate in his collaborative design project “The Everywhere Project” aptly titled after the folk song of a similar title of which I’m none too familiar. I chose Black Rock City, site of the famous Burning Man festival which I am similarly none too familiar with. What I do know now, I’m partly intrigued by and partly wish I hadn’t seen.
Like most design projects, a lot is cut, unused, or cropped to usable standards. This peculiar wooden thing met a likely fate at the hands of a clipping mask. But here it is, in its full buildout.
Yes. Every last one of them. For now. My lack of Tumblr participation came down to me not needing another outlet to merely upload contextless imagery from various unnamed projects—I’ve got other outlets to fail at updating for that.
No promises on frequency and I’m going to avoid the word blog for all intensive purposes as that’s a bit too commitment-heavy at this point. Let’s just say I’ll report newer projects and tangents as the mood arrives.
Let the mass unfollowing begin. Apologies in advance.