The Appropriation of Design

Buzzwords suck because they lead to the wholesale appropriation of the concept of Design. When people feel that it’s important to start hyping up a profession, it is equivalent to summarizing a designer’s entire life into two words.

Where misunderstanding begins

While buzzwords may add eyeballs to a position, such as a UX Designer, they still distill the value of the position in question to nothing more than a name. Time and time again, we’ve seen this happen to several professions.

This hype increases the demand for specific designers. When this happens, the supply of designers goes up, leading to a noticeable and significant decline in quality (very similar to the effects of having too much information). Economics 101.

Drawing a comparison between design/art

We face this problem at my design firm, Bedouin, because we see companies who think they understand design thinking, UX, iXd, etc… but, in reality, they don’t. They just like what we call “dribble art”: clean colours, fancy buttons, but no process (thought + testing).. They are focused only on the result or the aesthetics.

Think of it this way:

UX = an Architect

Aesthetics = a Decorator

It’s tempting to choose the option that is more compelling to the eye, e.g. a drop-down menu, however, it makes it difficult for the user to accomplish the intended action. Look at the example below to contrast UX (left) with dribbble art (right). Note: when aesthetics serve a purpose that isn’t superficial, they become visual design. A google example of visual design is the use of the colour blue to convey security or a drop-down menu to list more than 5 options. There’s a reason behind every visual decision.

Sequence of appropriation

When a field of design starts to get some attention, it tends to follow a very specific progression, as the buzzwords associated with that field lead to flat-out design appropriation.

The repeat mentions & perceived ‘aha’ moment

You start hearing people say a buzzword. People are posting about it on Medium. LinkedIn taglines and statuses are starting to use this word. Shared articles are talking about all the hype. This is the first step in falling victim to buzzwords. Because you’re so aware of this thing now, the buzzword starts to pick at your curiosity. You become interested in what it means so you may hit up Google for a “quick fix” definition. You now understand that UX = User Experience. Your whole world is put into perspective. You feel like you’ve been missing out all along. Must. Design. For. The. User.

The need to talk about the buzzword in everything you do

Now that you’ve appropriated the livelihood of every UX professional, you think that designing for the user is a given. It just happens. You just do it. Think how the user will think. So now you regurgitate this word to your colleagues and other professionals. You tell them to just “Do UX”. Don’t be surprised if your ambiguity makes it hard for you to hire any design professionals with real experience.

The “I just got put in my place” moment

Someone tells you that you have no clue what you’re talking about. Their communication skills make it easy for you to understand what you lack in your own. Suddenly, you go from listening to their words to acknowledging the truth in them: Indeed, you have no idea what you’ve been talking about for the last 3 months.

Use the hype to be aware of a design discipline, but contribute to the growth of the field by actually understanding it, instead of just knowing it and bringing it up in every other conversation you have. Care about developing context and asking questions regarding the discipline.

Anecdotes to better understand design

Look beneath the hood

Learn how it’s done, not what it is. When your teacher in high school asked you to prove your work, it was for a reason. Any quality designer, regardless of type, will place their process over their output. Without understanding this process, you’ll never understand how the result came to be, so you’ll continue to wrongly place a higher importance on the aesthetics, instead of on the experience. When you respect design research & process, you develop insight into the bigger picture.

Surround yourself with people who teach you

Stay cool by staying around groups who will help propel your understanding by offering insight into the process. This can only be done through diversity — surrounding yourself with those with different work and personal experiences. That alone is powerful enough to spark a conversation which will open your eyes.

If you’d like to be around design experts, and if you’d like to learn about how we’re more like architects than like decorators, then you can reach out to us here

bedouin studios