Also known as the things that will never be in a spec doc but are inherently present in any craft.
Almost every designer who has worked with a diverse group of collaborators in a team will find the following situation familiar. The situation is one where at some point during product development, some aspect of design is brought into question and there is not really a logical rationale behind it. By logical I mean something that directly ties to a product goal the entire team agreed upon. Something explicitly mentioned in the product spec (by spec I am referring to anything that lies between ‘a one-liner of what you want a product to do’ to ‘those dreaded 50 page documents that some teams still work with’.
It is not that the decision is illogical, quite the contrary actually. It is rooted in the designer’s fundamental beliefs, their philosophy of how something they bring into this world, needs to feel. Given how the entire valley has tricked itself that everything about our products is quantifiable, it is only expected that something as fluffy as feels is not going to fly well if you and your team do not share a similar worldview of the work.
When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.
Over the years, I have met not just designers but engineers, PMs and all kinds of builders of products who live by the above philosophy. Every time I have worked with one, it has been a joy. And I mean joy in the true sense of the word. Blissful. Oh my God, I can do this forever JOY. Unsurprisingly, I have done the best work of my life in such settings.
After multiple attempts at recreating this on different teams I have worked with, the conclusion that I have come to is that you cannot force this (I mean you cannot but they its not a team that shares the direction of the product in a balanced way — it becomes lopsided. Design becomes a gatekeeper of sorts which is terrible in its own way.). The only control you have in creating an environment like this is picking the right people — the right thought partners to work with. It makes coming to decisions faster, seamless and honestly more fun. There is a great energy in the room when people believe in something unanimously versus when they need to be convinced about it in a meeting or review.
Design as art.
People like to label things. It makes things predictable and allow for some weird formulaic repeats to happen. Art and Design are two such labels. Art for me is anything that invokes the intended emotion from the observer. If you share that definition of art then there is no rationale reason that forces to be just about utility and business needs and cannot transcend to be art too. Our best designed products — your iPhone, a Leica camera, your favorite leather bag have an inspirational art like characteristic. So why not our digital products. If all we do is mimic the known ways of doing things, then how will we ever move forward. If we all measure the same thing, then how will anything be different.
My intention with this post is less to present a solution or that this is the only opinion that matters. But more to present an alternative, a system of belief that may be different from yours. And that’s ok. :)