If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know that I advocate for smart, applied user research. At the very least, talking to actual customers (especially when you’re doing software or system design). But, I felt it was time to address another related point. There is more to the equation than that.
It’s really easy to get stuck on different research and organization methodologies. It’s important to practice and learn what works for you. However, there is something to be said for an experienced designer having a firm understanding of time-tested human solutions. This does not replace research, but it aids it tremendously. It should also not be valued less than research. After all, hiring a professional is like having a specified reference added to your project. This can help not only with design decisions but it assists greatly in an applied perspective during research. The way in which a designer presents ideas will reflect how they are using that experience. This is important for newcomers to learn as a skill. Applying relevant and current research to a project sets you apart from someone using only their experience of tried-and-true patterns. But the combination of the two is powerful.
A Perfect Partnership
Experience and research must come together to form a solution.
Basecamp founder Jason Fried recently spoke on Intercom podcast about how they completely rebuilt their product 3 times in the past twelve years. They are one of few software companies going against the grain, yet thriving for this long and staying small and scrappy. I admire a lot Jason has to say, but it really spoke to me when he gave specific examples of things his company has learned over the years. It’s taken them 12 years to learn from their customers and market and there are always new factors to consider. For the most recent full version revamp, they applied 12 years of learning constants to new technology. They would not know these constants even with the largest of research budgets if they were just coming into the game today. Some things, like experience, can only be earned with time.
There is value in data. There is probably more value in experience, relatively speaking. Technology changes so fast that some experience becomes outdated very quickly. It’s up to you as a technologist to decide what to move on from, and what to engrain into your process as a working pattern. But you simply cannot just gain experience within a small amount of time.
Shortcut to Learning
One thing I will mention as hope for new designers is this. Read about experiences. Not just how someone applied css that didn’t render the same across browsers; Read about experiences in business culture as designers have experienced them. Read about mistakes. Read about people who use similar work to yours. Get to know culture, markets and business. Know where you stand on patterns and technology. Allow that to evolve with an open mind. Talk to experienced designers, and new designers alike. Learn about building teams, and how to adapt that knowledge as cultural trends sway. Ask about leadership experiences. Give back what you learn. And then hone your own instincts while proving the other assets along the way.
Do you recall a time where your own experience helped you understand research in a deeper way than you would have years ago? I would love to hear about it.
Thanks for reading.