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Tools Of Change For Designers: Illuminating

The first opportunity for designers to be an agent of change is to shed light, to illuminate. This is a powerful tool to bring about change in your organization. One way to do this is to listen to both your feelings and the facts. The process of illumination is two-fold: you can shed light on both yourself and others. Let’s begin by discussing how your can shed light for yourself.

According to Jonah Lehrer in How We Decide, our emotional subsystem is what allows us to make decisions, not our rational mind. Designers should be mindful of this and you should make sure that they don’t brush aside the inner “Yes” or “No” as they design. While feelings are emotional “facts,” the designer should take this as a data point, as one piece of fact to the larger puzzle.

Designers must also pay attention to external facts. Facts are friendly to a designer because they reflect truth, the underlying reality of a situation. Raw data. Nothing more. Facts in and of themselves have no emotional charge, they just are. So, as you consider your design decisions, examine both your feelings and external facts.

Too often as humans, we intentionally fool ourselves. Call it self-deception. This is where we willfully ignore our feelings by rationalizing what “should” or must be true.  Or we dismiss what the facts are telling us.

Designers need to fight the urge to override their inner “Yes” or “No.” And they need to avoid the pull of going the opposite direction of what the facts are showing them.

Deceiving yourself into hearing what you want to hear is particularly un-useful. I like to define stupidity as the following:

A series of decisions and actions where the result is the opposite of the intended outcome, and where willful ignorance or self-deception is at play.

Willful ignorance or self-deception generally leads to poor decisions and even worse design. However, if a designer responds to the facts as they are, rather than they “should” be, they dramatically increase the chances of things turning out as they hope.

Beyond turning up the light in yourself, I believe that you can also illuminate things on the outside, both your peers and your organization. Designers can do this through visualization, categorization, information design, interaction dynamics and symbolic structure development. One key idea of illumination is capturing the transient, giving permanence to the ephemeral.

As peers come to you with ideas, apply your craft by helping them visualize their concepts, sketches and white board content by turning it into frameworks or other meaningful, relevant visualizations. Taking the time to reveal the meaning for your colleagues with help challenge the default reality and shape it into something new. This will help facilitate meaningful and relevant conversations, which will result in better decisions and alignment.

Harry Max is Vice President of Experience Design for Rackspace. Harry’s role includes responsibility for everything experience: from product design to customer service tools to the employee experience. Be sure to visit the blog next week for Harry’s second tool of change for designers, Educating. Also check out Harry’s introductory post.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Harry Max.

Harry Max is Vice President of Experience Design for Rackspace. Harry’s role includes responsibility for everything experience: from product design to customer service tools to the employee experience.

Before joining Rackspace, Harry worked with executives, UX management, software and Internet technologists, startup founders, and visionaries. Clients included Google, SAP, Skype, Adobe, Symantec, PayPal, and others.

Prior to this, Harry was on the forefront of Internet-based application design and development. In 1994, as a cofounder of Virtual Vineyards (wine.com), Harry designed all of the user interaction concepts behind the first secure Web shopping cart.


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