Designer & Designer

Observation in Design

Episode Summary

Happy St. Patricks Day (also Brian's Birthday)! This week we discuss observation in design – how does it turn a good designer into a great designer. What does it mean to observe the world? How can we let observation influence our sense of design to create a shared moment of "humanness."

Episode Notes

Mentioned in this episode:

- Joe's Original Post, Observation As A Prerequisite For Design (

- Ira Glass on the Taste Gap (

- History of the Ampelmann (

Recorded at Cloud Studios in Seattle (

Episode Transcription

Brian: [00:00:00] I'm Brian Fling and I'm a designer

Joe: [00:00:05] and I'm Joel Alterio and I'm a designer. Today we're going to be talking about the role of observation in design. You can do a lot of things right as designer, but I kind of feel like until you start looking at the world around you, you don't really have it. We'll talk about it.

Joe: Hey Brian, buddy, happy birthday,

Brian: [00:00:29] man. Boom.

Joe: [00:00:32] 21 yeah. One one years old.

Brian: [00:00:34] 21 episodes,

Joe: [00:00:35] sorry.

Brian: [00:00:36] Yeah. Older than that. Totally.

Joe: [00:00:37] Yeah. How's it feel

Brian: [00:00:39] to be older?

Joe: [00:00:40] Yeah.

Brian: [00:00:41] Older.

Joe: [00:00:45] Not really. You got like half your life left.

Brian: [00:00:48] I do

Joe: [00:00:48] like there's so many people I admired that done their absolute best work in the later stage of their life. Oh, totally. Yeah.

Brian: [00:00:54] Totally. I think all the best things in my life have happened

Joe: [00:00:58] later.

Brian: [00:00:58] Yeah. I started life [00:01:00] earlier

Joe: [00:01:00] by life. Literally started at 30 like everything before.

That was just a fucking wash.

Brian: [00:01:05] Yeah, no, no. I've got, I've got a few more years left to my forties and then I can look forward to my fifties. So, yeah,

Joe: [00:01:15] that's awesome. And that's also st Patrick's day, so if you're of Irish extraction, happy Saint Patty's day.

Brian: [00:01:20] Yay. Green beer day. Well, it's funny because. All my life.

You know, everyone always says like, Oh, so you get to go to an Irish restaurant or whatever. And it's like, you know, they've been asking me that question since I've been, you know, years old. Yeah. And, and so I've always avoided like Irish restaurants on my birthday because you know, it's green beer and mayhem and throwing up in their shoes.

So I'm always going to like the. The quiet,

Joe: [00:01:49] happy French bistro day.

Brian: [00:01:52] That's right. That's

Joe: [00:01:54] funny. Oh, we got some great episodes coming up. Uh, Jacob , uh, creative director of Fantagraphics [00:02:00] books. Uh, we'll be on the show soon. We'll be talking about how you kind of get from. From starting point to the finish point.

He's just an amazing book designer, amazing designer. So cool. It's truly unbelievable. And also, uh, Matt may from Adobe will be talking to us about, uh, inclusive design, which I'm also super excited about.

Brian: [00:02:18] Yeah. I think that one's going to be a big one.

Joe: [00:02:19] Yeah. That's awesome.

Brian: [00:02:21] Cool.

Joe: [00:02:22] Yeah, so we're talking

Brian: [00:02:23] about observation today.

Yeah, yeah. So you wrote a blog post about this? I

Joe: [00:02:28] did. And I actually, and then I, I blew it up and I just did a, uh, I did a talk about this as well, so I'm just going to give you

Brian: [00:02:35] a Seattle interactive.

Joe: [00:02:36] No, no, it was just, just for an internal thing, but, um, I figured it was a good topic because it's just kinda been on my mind.

And when you're kind of thinking about something, you might as well just. Barf. Your neural firing, your why not. So, um, I have this kind of, I have this stance and I'm not sure where you come down on this. You may agree, you may not agree. So we'll see how this goes. But, um, so there is, [00:03:00] I feel like. Let's say you're a young designer, didn't really know anything.

You're in design school. There is a lot of things you'd learn. You learn color theory, you learn gestalt principles. You learn how narrative informs design. You learn a lot of things, right? And a lot of those things, if you, if you're, if you're paying attention and you're studying and you're kind of, and you're really interested in this stuff, and you look at.

You know, I feel like young designers and young creative people in general, what they do is they, they remake stuff they like, right? Like just kind of like, I know for, for me, for at least the first 10 years I was working, I would basically just look at designers and illustrators and be like, I want to do that shit.

And I would just try to replicate it perfectly. And that's kind of how I think you kind of build that kind of infrastructure and framework of how to get to be a good creative person. Right. I reclass has this thing. He talks about the taste gap, right? He has this thing where it's actually, well, we'll link it in the show notes.

It's like a, it's like a little, like two minute spiel. He talks about the gap of, of where you start. Like you start in your, in your early creative career and you [00:04:00] know what you like. Like you know what's good, you see good stuff, but you can't make that good stuff. I see. And it's extremely frustrating because how do you get from there to there?

Right, right. And so. The way it's traditionally communicated is you get from from here to there by following these rules in school or that you kind of learn from other people or a mentor, and just by doing them again and again and again, you'll get there. I contend that that is how to get to be a good creative.

You can be a good. Functional paying bill, paying creative. But I think the thing that turns a good creative to a great creative is this idea of. Taking the world in and then reflecting the world back into your designs or into your artwork or into your whatever. Now, this is a little bit controversial, I feel like because it strays a little bit more into that space of art, right?

[00:05:00] Right. A little bit way from design and into art, but I would contend that something can be totally functional for our space. Totally user centric, but it is in some ways, um. By making something that has that human moment that kind of catches your breath and you recognize what another human being has seen in the world and it's reflected back upon you.

It makes it yours and makes it something that feels very, very true and real to you, and it becomes endemic and what and what you kind of love. I contend that, for example, that's why Apple, especially the Steve jobs, Apple stuff was so popular because it was stuff that truly reflected things. He believed.

Right? Like a lot of that kind of Zen stuff that he was talking about, like that stuff is endemic in that stuff. Yes. If that stuff was just good, proper design principles, people would like it. Right. People like Android phones, but Android phones don't carry that. Other thing. And that other thing is that [00:06:00] humanness that is reflected within it.

Brian: [00:06:02] Yeah.

Joe: [00:06:03] You know what I mean? Oh, yeah. So now I'm going to shut up and then you can tell me how I have

Brian: [00:06:06] all sorts of, first of all, I'd say that the Android design principles is to be Apple phones. Um,

Joe: [00:06:14] I earn emojis.

Brian: [00:06:18] I have a couple. Yeah, no, I have a couple of immediate reactions to what you were just saying. Um, uh, so first of all, as someone that teaches design at a, uh, no, I wouldn't, it's not really a design school, but it's one of the best user centered design schools in the country. Sure. Um, undergrads don't actually learn any of those things that you just mentioned.

Okay. Which is kinda sad. Um. It, it, it definitely is a problem. So, uh, people that, that designers that are on the UX design track, um, they're learning more about like technology and some of those things and not some like color theory. Wow. So the kids that are going through like the art school program and there's, you know, different.

Schools, they learn [00:07:00] different things, but, and I teach kind of all of them and uh, yeah, unfortunately they don't learn those things. Wow. Um, cause I'm kinda hoping since I didn't go take any of those courses, I'm kind of hoping they learn and like tell me and then I can like, Oh, I knew that all along, but uh, no they don't.

So, well, that's a big

Joe: [00:07:18] red flag a

Brian: [00:07:19] little bit. Yeah, a little bit. I think it's, I think it might have changed a little bit, huh? Is it in

Joe: [00:07:25] your school and DEMEC with the HCI school and stuff like that or no? Is there a design school in

Brian: [00:07:30] there? Is, there is. So, yeah, the university of Washington, there's probably four different kind of design programs you can take.

Um, and the, in digital there's the human centered design and engineering school, and that would be probably the closest one there where you would learn some of those. But even then, it's not like what. You know, when you and I kind of think like traditional design school, like you're going to spend a quarter just on like typographic, right?

[00:08:00] You're gonna spend a color, a color theory quarter.

Joe: [00:08:02] Wow. Like,

Brian: [00:08:03] yeah. Hm. Yeah. Um. It just an aside, I think it has to do with kind of the economics of, you know, making sure students are kind of leaving the program. And again, they will get

Joe: [00:08:13] jobs there, have massive holes in their education then. Yes.

Brian: [00:08:16] Yeah. Yeah. So, uh, just, uh, a couple of weeks ago, for example, I was working with a team and I had to do like a crash course on information design.

Yeah. And I was like, this is. I teach at the information school where information design seems like, you know, that's like week three. Um, yeah. Anyhow, so, so there are some of those gaps I think that happen in that. Um, but, uh, but that all being said, what you were, what you were saying really resonates with me.

And I absolutely agree that I do feel that as good designers, we need to be constant observers. Yeah. Like design is not. In my opinion. Yeah. It's not a job. It is a way of life, definitely.

Joe: [00:08:59] Right? [00:09:00] Absolutely.

Brian: [00:09:00] We were at an event, um, a couple of weekends or a couple of weeks ago, and, uh, one of Becca Markham's events and, uh, someone on the panel was saying that.

They were at church and they saw that the Kearney on like one of the, like stitch things in the pastor was off and they kind of, you're like

Joe: [00:09:22] looking at it,

Brian: [00:09:24] right? I mean, so once you learn some of these things, you can't unlearn them. And when you see other artists, creatives, and you see their creations, you can't help it see that and kind of be like, Oh my God, I want.

Joe: [00:09:37] That, how did that get to be?

Brian: [00:09:39] Right, right, right. And it could be like the spacing, it could be the color palette. It could be like it's just, it's general kind of order or the feeling that you have

Joe: [00:09:49] because because designer or a creative work is not just the sum of its parts. Right. If it was the sum of its parts, we could outsource this shit to AI.

Right. Do you remember like it was, I think it was called, like the grid. Dot. [00:10:00] IO was like front end design solved right? No, it wasn't solved at all. It was garbage. You know why? Because it is not just the sum of basic principles about like, you know, like that, that you have an H one and H two and H two has to be a quarter as big as the H one, like those rules may exist.

Right. But that is almost after the fact, right? Like a dominant and affecting physical, physical work is a conveyance of the human condition because that, that object is, that is the, the, the vessel for that human condition. You know what I mean? Yeah. Um, and that's art. I don't think that that is still design.

Yeah. You know?

Brian: [00:10:37] Yeah. I see. I put a different way. I like to use this design math. The term that I think I've used before is like, you know, obviously two plus two equals four, right. But, but our job as designers is like two plus three equals four and one plus five equals four and one plus three equals four.

Like our job is to actually look at. All of these different kinds of constructs and some things that [00:11:00] don't make any sense at all. Sometimes they do make sense. Totally. But our job is to actually provide that rationale of like, you know, four is the solution in all those scenarios. But the way we kind of got there is, you know, might defy logic at times.

Joe: [00:11:13] Totally. And I think that when we talk about things that are boring, I mean, we are in a very, um. I think we're in a design rut. I think a lot of things in the world these days are designed extremely poorly. And I think that's because, um, there is just, uh, an impulse to kind of get it out and ship it out the door.

Right. And I think that it is because. Even if good, quote unquote air quotes, good design principles are being used, that that fundamental kind of floating above piece is being removed. And that is that taking the time to observe the world and then let that that world reflect back into your design. I think that there are people that are just, I mean, hearing what you say about, about, about students in an HCI class.

Getting rules about, about [00:12:00] patterns and kind of like mobile scopes and stuff like that, but not typography and design, like that's just ass backwards because that is just like the, like the, like the mobile framework is just the deployment of the design principles, right? If you don't have the design principles, then you just have very hollow object.

Brian: [00:12:19] Right? Right. True. True. Yeah. I mean, I think one could argue is. That understanding kind of the principle, or, I'm sorry, the patterns around how to construct design is like your baby steps into kind of the craft of design.

Joe: [00:12:34] Totally. Absolutely. And, and doing that stuff. And so when they're, when you happen to come across someone who is, um, just kind of like naturally a good designer, we've all met these people, they just kind of get it right.

Like, um. Like I talk about it a lot. Like my older son is just like an engineering guy. He just like does that. And my younger son is clearly like a quiet, like weird little creative. And I know that because he's always like observing things, right? So it's like those two clouds look [00:13:00] the same. You know what I mean?

It's not something that you necessarily have to notice, but if you're looking for it, he's noticing these things. Sure. And so when you meet people that are just kind of naturally good designers, you just kind of naturally good creatives, I think they're still doing all of those. Typography rules or or color theory rules.

It's just that they just kind of. No, it for some reason, they just, they don't have to go to school for it. They just kind of,

Brian: [00:13:24] okay, so this is, this is interesting. This was in your blog post when you were talking about your kids, so I didn't want to talk about your kids without your permission. So let's talk about my kids, but yeah, so you have one.

That is clearly like a creative, a designer. And the other one, I think he used the analogy of playing Legos is not alright. I know

Joe: [00:13:42] you're hot and bothered about Legos.

Brian: [00:13:47] Okay. But, but seriously,

Joe: [00:13:49] we can be creative, but it's within a framework of this is the problem tools that said. Sure,

Brian: [00:13:54] sure. So this would be, so I'm the youngest of six sons.

Okay. So I, most of them are [00:14:00] like. Engineers. Right. Um, but I do have one of my older brothers that he's just a natural artist. He can pick up an instrument and just start playing that thing and just like, yeah, yeah, he can, uh, he like picked up watercolors, like we're a summer, and then like a year later was in galleries.

Like right. Whatever. He puts his mind to. Sure he is. He's just amazing at it. Right. And he was always like kind of growing up. Um, I love him to death. He's my brother Roberts. He probably listens to the show, so he knows I'm talking about him. Right. I love him to death and he's incredibly talented person.

But I'm the one of my family, the only one of my family that is. Professional designer, right? I've also had the most success out of design. I was that your second son? I was the kid playing with Legos right now. Granted, I would do like doodling and like do like kind of creative things, a little bit more entrepreneurial.

Like I always wanted like, you know, have a [00:15:00] magazine business or something. But, um, but I was not. I mean, I was creative, sure. Treated like creatively, but that was, you know, I was like maybe a C art student, like in class. In fact, when I left school, I didn't even want to be a designer. That wasn't even on my radar.

Right. I wanted to go into filmmaking, which is like, had to craft and science and that sort of thing. Kind of applied to it. But, um, but yeah, I mean, designer was something that I didn't even reach until, I don't know. My mid twenties I think is when I started like teaching myself. But the way I see it, when we talked about this a few episodes back, the way I kind of approach that is very much from like kind of framework engineering thinking.

Sure. Legos in that example is, is. That is the building block that I have right. To kind of create stuff.

Joe: [00:15:53] Right,

Brian: [00:15:53] right, right. Sometimes that's recreation. Totally. Like these days, I get a Lego set. I just like to follow by the book. Right, [00:16:00] right. Because it's more of a mental break, but when I was a kid, it was like, you know, creativity.


Joe: [00:16:04] Yeah.

Brian: [00:16:04] Spaceships. Lots of scholarships, please. Of course.

Joe: [00:16:08] Why? Why build anything

Brian: [00:16:08] else? Sometimes a spaceship and a castle, but most of these patients.

Joe: [00:16:13] So I think that I totally agree with you. I don't want to confuse the tactical deployment of creativity from the endemic deployment of creativity. What you choose to do, use your, your, your, what your medium is as a creative person is almost immaterial.

What I'm talking about is the fact that when you were making those Lego spaceships, you were reflecting that thing that is inside of you. Like, like you were talking about. Yeah. Making the, the, the, the Lego spaceships from, from the book now is a mental break. I get it. But you didn't do that in your kit.

When you were a kid, you were like, what is inside of me? I'm going to use this, whether it's watercolors or Legos to make this thing from inside of, well,

Brian: [00:16:54] the first thing to do is build the thing in the book and then you tear it apart. Totally.

[00:17:00] Joe: [00:16:59] Yeah. I brought up this Ansell Adams quote. Can I read it? Yeah, yeah.

Uh, he says, uh, we don't make a photograph with just a camera. We bring it to the act of photography. All the books we've read, the movies that we've seen, the music we've heard, and the people we've loved. Like to me that is like. Oh, that's it. Because I think that really, really good creative work is the culmination of all of those things that you have, that you have touched and seen and smelled, and the heartbreak you've had, and like some people may call that art.

For me, it is just kind of the general category of creativity and designers that have decided to not, I'm not going to be in the gallery space. I'm not going to be a musician. I'm going to be in the kind of like. Creativity as a service design space. We are lucky enough that those people have decided to use their personal experiences to benefit the rest of us.

Right. Like that is like a real, that's a real gift. And it's a, it's a, it's a talent and the gift that we should feel grateful that people like that are [00:18:00] like, that are out there. They're actually using their right. Their gifts or stuff like that. And so when I see a good designer, I'm not just thinking like, Oh, they'd just know all the gestalt rules.

I'm thinking they're speaking to me about themselves and they're giving me to themselves and I now I also can use it.

Brian: [00:18:15] When you say you see a good designer, what context of you're talking about? Are you talking about like when you see like a site design or when you see

Joe: [00:18:21] like anything.

Brian: [00:18:24] Poster,

Joe: [00:18:25] but there's a difference between a, we talked about this before too.

There's a difference between a functional poster that does this job, quote unquote good design and a poster that does this job also in, you're like, I get to get a print of that and put it in my house. Right? They both are serving the same function. They both tell you where the bathroom is. Let's say it's a great bathroom design.

The reason you have that bathroom design in your house. Well, it's because the person designed to put a part of themselves in it, and every single time you see that poster, that person is speaking to you. That is a gift. That is a gift that one gives the world. [00:19:00] And I think that for me, when I see a good design, that is the conversation that I have with that person that isn't there.

It's like having a conversation with a ghost.

Brian: [00:19:09] Yeah. That's interesting. You know what I mean? Yeah, yeah, yeah. The, uh. Uh, so I have, I talked to you about the story is the humble man, and you know, Oh, so. So the first time I ever was ever in, in Germany, um, I was, I started over in like, you know, the West Berlin area, and then I kind of was speaking at this conference over in the old East Berlin area.

Okay. So as I walk over there and I, and whenever I'm traveling, I like to kind of explore, just, you know, totally. So I noticed along the way that the little stop, the little walk signs. Yeah. They change from being kind of the traditional walk signs that we see

Joe: [00:19:49] little guys with hats

Brian: [00:19:51] to the guy with a hat, which is called the uncle man.

Joe: [00:19:53] Okay. Yeah.

Brian: [00:19:54] And there's also the uncle fro. Okay. And so, uh, but it was, it's this old, like [00:20:00] East German communist thing that they felt like. That was a thing that needed to be redesigned. Totally. They wanted it to be more, we wear hats, goddammit. They wanted it well. They wanted it to be more reflective of you, like the communist kind of ideal,

Joe: [00:20:18] and that's a great, I mean, that's a great example because they both serve the same function, but one just has more.

Brian: [00:20:25] Yeah. So when I came back from Berlin, I didn't have any Berlin souvenir shit. I had uncle shit. They had an album on store. Like I had like a hoodie. I had like a little bag, like my kid got all album on uncle Frau stuff. Excellent. And that was all of my Berlin souvenirs were like this little tiny. Like seemingly minor thing.

Yeah. But as I was walking around, I was like, Oh, there's the uncle man, or Hey, there's an uncle Frank,

Joe: [00:20:53] and that's for me, that is the, I contend that that is the fundamental function of good design is that observation, is that like, look, that little [00:21:00] effort and detail, right. If someone decided to put into it, to express themselves, to express another thing above and beyond the basic thing that needs to be expressed, that just returns it from good to great.

Right. Agreed. Yeah, yeah, yeah,

Brian: [00:21:12] yeah, yeah, yeah. I see where you're going. Um, I do have a different, I don't disagree, but I do have a kind of a different kind of lens that I see this

Joe: [00:21:25] through

Brian: [00:21:25] please. And is, you know, kind of thinking as like designers that in my mind, a designer that gets it. That is a natural designer and a designer that might not be quite so natural, I think is a kind of like a uni type of situation is usually designers that kind of naturally design.

It can draw. Like you can always see like this Nestle mean they're a great designer, but they're a natural because they are, they're doodlers and there's a lot of designers out there. They can't draw, right? I mean, [00:22:00] I consider myself to be the latter, right? I can draw, I can draw, but, you know, compared to you like my inner doodles, um, and, uh, and so, so I, I do kind of see that there is a little bit of that difference when it comes to two designers.

Right? So for someone like me, I look at the. The craft of design is less about the artifact, and it is getting a little bit more into the impact that it has upon someone. And I don't care if it's vanilla and, and it serves this job, whether we want to call that vanilla or minimalism or whatever it is, if it serves its purpose and it makes.

The user feel the way that it was intended to feel. I don't give a shit right. If it's like the gestalt principles of design or whatever, like it's solved that problem. And so I guess the way I might look at it as I see [00:23:00] it as more of kind of, um, I like the more humanist kind of approach, just like, what does that user feel or, or think when they're using

Joe: [00:23:11] that.

Yeah. You know, I don't disagree, but I do. Right? We have so little time on this planet, you know, like why not take an opportunity to constantly be having real conversations with people? Like can we can do the basic functional thing? And I understand that the kind of minimalist design ethos these days is very, very in Vogue.

And I get it. I get why it's happening because of all the technology. It's happened before. It will happen again. But there is. Just, I feel like a value and making sure that we're continually reminding ourselves that the people making these things are human beings and they have opinions. Quite frankly, I think that when we give the opportunity for humans to let their humanness out in design, that is why it's so [00:24:00] important, for example, to have a dessert diverse design team, right?

Because when you start allowing people's actual opinions to inform this thing, you may be. Saw are solving problems that you didn't even consider. Right. Even though it's maybe it seems like you're just basically doing the basics and solving the problem. You haven't even necessarily thought about the problem because you're not allowing space for that humanness and that observation to come in as a, as a, as a white man walking on the street, the things I observe are going to be different.

Then a black woman. And so those observations that I take into my designs are just going to be different and they're going to be naturally predicated on a set of things that may be, I might consider to just be basic standard product principles, right? But if I'm not taking my own observational accounts into account, I'm going to be blindsided when someone says, Hey, this isn't working for

Brian: [00:24:53] me.

I hear that and that, and I don't think that we're seeing. Different things. Yeah. I think that we're, we're [00:25:00] probably seeing the same thing from different perspectives. When I hear you, when I hear you describe it, I S I hear as as a designer, one's responsibility is to kind of observe and reflect kind of the world, but what I'm hearing from you is that, that, that it manifests itself into an artist, kind of create a vision.

Joe: [00:25:23] Right.

Brian: [00:25:24] Whereas I'm kind of saying that the creative vision of the artists, to me at least, is secondary to the impact of the the user. So observing and reflect on on the end users. Kind of what you want them to have. Right. I like to, I like to think of it as an epiphany. Sure. Right. Yeah. And that our job is to kind of bring that about using multiple methods where what is important to me or how I might kind of look at it is, is not as important.

Joe: [00:25:58] Yeah. I just don't think you. [00:26:00] I don't think, you know, I don't think you can be impartial. Like I think that even though you think you're brought not bringing any opinions, you are like that. And I think that. By pretending that there is a type of design that is strictly functional, I think is fooling ourselves.

Brian: [00:26:16] But that's not exactly what I'm saying. I think what I'm saying is that that our job as a designer is to walk in in that person's shoes as much as possible. But our, our, our responsibility is to actually make sure we're actively checking any of our biases and, and really kind of. Yeah. And in that scenario of like, if, I mean this is something that Becca was talking about, is how do you design for like a black woman if you don't have a black woman on the team?

Right. And, and so it, my job is as, as a white male, is to then say, okay, I don't know what that experience is like. So I need to ask, I need to, to. Find out I need [00:27:00] to bring someone onto my team. I need to understand what I don't know right before I can actually solve this problem. Cause otherwise I would just be grasping at straws.

Joe: [00:27:09] Totally. I think that the fundamental difference that you and I have in this conversation is that. I have given up on the idea that I don't have an opinion on things because I am a human being. Like, we're not robots. And so even if I am doing my best to get all opinions, I will have my own, like I talked about, like, like, like doing that design work for a client that was, um.

That was based in India and it was like from these like Norwegian design principles, like this isn't for us. Like, right. You know what I mean? Like where's the color? And like the craziness, cause like a lot of InDesign is totally awesome and Rococo and crazy. Right. And so like. Like I think that we just need to be, I guess what I'm arguing for honesty, that we all are in some ways, artists, even though we're not thinking about ourselves as artists, we are all, when you are creating something, putting in the world, the second it leaves your brain and passes through your [00:28:00] hands and onto the page or the screen, you have.

Stained it with yourself.

Brian: [00:28:04] So I hear that, but we've walked me through that process. How, how did you get there? Is it like when, how did you get, get to the thing that wasn't right? Did you, did you like show them like low Fidelity's first and then, or like walk me through what kind of led up to,

Joe: [00:28:23] yeah, I mean it was a lot of Islam mood boards and stuff like that and it was just kind of a couple of rounds of them being like, this isn't really cutting it.

And then. And it was like, no, no, no, it's this stuff. And then them sending me mood board stuff. It was like, Oh, I see. I'm not talking to you yet. And so, but the reality is that delivering that thing to them, that still wasn't. Someone from India making it. It was someone from India telling a guy in Seattle and giving it back to them.

So what they got was Seattle white guy flavored stuff, right? Which is like, okay, because they liked it. But to pretend that that thing that I made them was just based on these basic design principles. [00:29:00] I think we're fooling ourselves. I don't think we're robots. I think we can't help but make those things.

So, and being honest about it and thinking, what is my life like? What am I like when you're, when I, I know for, at least for me. When I'm happy, the designs I make are much different than the one I'm sad. Even if it's just for a checkout flow. The assumptions I make as a human being, my emotions will affect the creative work.

I just think that's endemic to what human beings are. And I think that, I think the difference that you and I is that I think I'm no disrespect, I'm thinking I'm being a little bit more honest.

Brian: [00:29:30] No, I don't. I think we have very different philosophies. Sure. So, so. My some, some, and I'm not disagreeing with anything that you're saying.

Should you have more people, you know, different genders and colors on your team? Absolutely. Right, right. Should the design process reflect, uh, uh, the people that you're designing for? Absolutely. You should put in those guardrails to be able to do that. Right. I absolutely [00:30:00] agree. Yeah. Um, I think that my. The way I kind of approach it is, I mean, quite honestly is you are the rock in the stream.

Sure. Right. Is it, you just need to be there and kind of let everything kind of flow over you for sometimes long periods of time. And I mean, and I live, I try to live my life. Is it that way? I mean, I, I

Joe: [00:30:24] wear

Brian: [00:30:26] black shirt every single day. I wear the exact same thing every day for a reason. Right, right, right.

Is, is to live by those principles because I need to constantly be observing. Right. And constantly kind of be witnessing and absorbing. It doesn't necessarily mean that I don't have my own biases. I'd be like, foolish. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have those right. But I think that that by, by being kind of a, as a designer, being kind of quiet and being like just truly observing.

That's why I was saying earlier, it's not a job. It's a [00:31:00] lifestyle totally right, is that you have to always be paying attention. Like. I mean, I've talked about it before, like, you know, traffic from me, right? Like traffic to me is the most fascinating, frustrating, perplexing, kind of ethnographic study happening everywhere I go.

Yeah. Why did that person suddenly decide. To break the rules of society will made them think that, and I'm not seeing that in a judgemental way. I'm just saying they just acted in a way that was unexpected to me, and I find that fascinating.

Joe: [00:31:33] Totally right.

Brian: [00:31:34] What was it that led that person, you know, a fraction of a second.

Were they having a bad day? Are they like late for a meeting? Are they just an asshole? Which I doubt is true. Right. They probably don't think they're an asshole. Right. You know what I mean? These are the questions that kind of go through my head all

Joe: [00:31:51] the time. Totally. And, and, and I feel you and I agree with everything you've just said, like hundred percent.

My, my, my position is just that the fact that you were on [00:32:00] that bridge at that time exert, observing that traffic means you're going to make a different design than if you were in another city on another bridge. Washington. Different types of traffic

Brian: [00:32:09] that you see that

Joe: [00:32:11] you can't separate yourself up. And so, so when I talk about the value of observation being truly the fundamental part about what good design is, it is because you are being honest about the humanness that is, that is part of what design is.

Brian: [00:32:26] I hear that. But the thing is, it's not a, it's not. About that one instance. It's about the observation of many instances, right? That again, as not speaking metaphorically, I mean, just as a designer like you, you don't want to react to kind of individual things. You want to be able to gather up lots of different input and then be able to kind of absorb and then analyze those patterns and then kind of say, what is the thing

Joe: [00:32:55] that's kind of happening here?

So [00:33:00] we're on this project maybe about a year ago. And they were very, very rigorous. It was one of the times we were like, Oh man, these people really care about user research. It was really good to see. And they were like, yeah, we just do like user research all the time. And they wanted to have, they had a usability hub account and shit like that.

And they just kept on throwing designs through and we started getting kind of data. And I'm like, well, like the people like this and they didn't like that. And we're like, okay, cool. And, um. Then we were like, so how many users are we talking about? And they're like, Oh, like five. We're like, like 500 they're like, no, we had five users.

And so for them, they had the data and they had the numbers and they were being scientific. But the people, like if they're five people, the three people that like column a versus column B, who knows what their day was like. Like I don't think a lot of times, especially in this, in this time, we're fooling ourselves, that we're all completely dispassionate, scientific observers, and I just don't think that we can wash the humanness out of what we do.

Brian: [00:33:56] Yeah, I see that. I see that. Um, [00:34:00] I would see, I would actually just recently argued. For that, that only talked to five people. Right. So I had kind of the opposite problem. Right. So I'm one of the founders and our incubator, they were talking to lots of different people doing customer research. Yeah. And, uh, and what would happen is the more people they would talk to, the further away they would get from the

Joe: [00:34:22] idea.

Brian: [00:34:22] Yeah. And so, Jared spool, who has. Yeah, it does. UI, user interface engineering has a lot of data on this. He says that the, the, the rate of return after five people is starts to diminish. Sure. Yeah. And so the best thing to do is just focus on five people essentially. So. What, what I've been advising is talk to five, stop, reflect on what, on the input that you got to try to figure out what those common themes are.

Try to start to compose a hypothesis of what you think might be happening. Then go [00:35:00] talk to another five people and then confirm or deny or deny that hypothesis. Right? Do basically experimentation. So you're not, is it? You're trying to weed out. The bias and the kind of false signal that you start to get in that through the iterative process.


Joe: [00:35:19] yeah. Yeah. Let me listen that I agree a hundred percent I'm a big fan of user research and all that stuff. I just think we're big squishy balls of love and you just were never going to be that scientific. I think we're a complete and total weirdo mysteries all the second we let our heart into it as, and then the do good design really comes.

Brian: [00:35:35] I do. I also agree. We so. To the point in which we bring your heart into it is when the good stuff happens. Yeah. So what happens if you're a designer and you're working on something that your heart's not into?

Joe: [00:35:49] We do it all the time, right? I make completely fine designs all the time, right? You only get to make really, really amazing, thoughtful designs, and unless you're really lucky, you maybe get to [00:36:00] do like one of those a year, maybe, maybe like 10 in a lifetime.

Right. You actually mean it, right. You know what I mean? That's the good stuff. That's where you can look at it and be like, man, not only does it perform all these things, it was supposed to, I meant it.

Brian: [00:36:14] Right. Right. I see that. I see that. I just would say that there are projects that I've worked on that I wasn't.

Into in the beginning when I was like, Oh, this seems like a stupid idea, but I'm just going to keep rolling with it. Yeah. That ended up actually being some,

Joe: [00:36:30] because you observe and you find the purpose and then you reflect your, your, your observed purpose in the work and that's when it's good. You know what I mean?

Brian: [00:36:38] Cause it will, cause the other thing I was going to counter with is that. That sometimes we might do work that other, that we think other people are going to admire. And we do it for that purpose.

Joe: [00:36:50] Huge. Right?

Brian: [00:36:51] For sure. So there's so much of design right now, like, you know, the posh portfolio of just L this pristine work we've talked about, kind of the dribble [00:37:00] of occasion of design is you have all of this non-realistic work that may look beautiful, totally, but would never.

Actually work in the real world, right? Yeah. And that, that's a lot of designers I think kind of struggle with, with, you know, designing for other designers, right?

Joe: [00:37:18] Yeah. Yeah, for sure.

Brian: [00:37:19] And, and because, and some of my best work is not in my portfolio because. It requires context to understand like this was a huge fucking problem that we solved.

You're using design, and at the end of the day, it might not, it's not, it's not like a gorgeous, award-winning UI, but you know what? It significantly made a huge dent in people's lives. Right, right, right. That could be measured in a couple of different ways outside of just, you know, selling more pants.

Joe: [00:37:48] Totally. Hi guys.

Brian: [00:37:50] Hey, producer, Kat. Uh, can I make an observation? I love this conversation. I love this topic and you guys are kind [00:38:00] of countering each other a lot, but I definitely see like many, many paths to the sort of the same outcome. Um, and what I've, what I've observed, uh, in this conversation is that, you know, we're talking about creative reflection.

Um. Brian, you're obviously more tactical and you have a, have a different way of getting to your end sort of creation. Um, but as a creative myself, I definitely, I definitely see what Joe's talking about and I, I find myself, um, having more kind of revelations around. Uh, other people's creative endeavors.

When the moment when I sort of recognize, uh, or when I have that instance of recognition of like, a human made this, they made this for me. Or like, whether it be a painting or a [00:39:00] digital experience or, um, w or if I'm making something for somebody else, um. I get delight. I know what's a good product, or I know what's a good design.

When I see that people recognize that sort of that instance of humanness. It's that instance of recognition in each other. I think that makes good art. That makes good a design. That makes good, you know, any, anything creative like music,

Joe: [00:39:29] poetry,

Brian: [00:39:30] have you. Um, I mean, that's pretty much all I got. Yeah. I mean, and I, and I, again, I hear that and I, in my mind, that is, it's the human in human centered design.

It's the C and I get it like we, and we all want to do that. I think that we just had, I think we're talking about slightly different kind of philosophy that, uh. Of kind of going in here. And I definitely think that observation is a [00:40:00] huge, huge part of that. Um, I, I just. What I think where I'm kind of struggling with is an a, not to say anyone's wrong or I'm right or anything.

I think where I'm struggling is in my mind, there are no right or wrong, right? There isn't, this is not a black and white. Totally right. This is about, this is about, uh, setting up, uh, a personal or organizational or team framework. And how do you. Unpack these conversations when they happen, what are the guardrails that you're going to put in place to ensure that bias isn't kind of leaching into the design process?

Right. Um, but to sort of thinking about it as like, there is a right way or a wrong way. Yeah. And I think this is one of maybe one of the reasons why we've been kind of doing this back and forth. I just look at it as like, yes, you're right. Absolutely. But I'm also right to know, and that's, that's one of the frustrations I think with design and coming up with these design challenges is [00:41:00] what do you do when you have multiple correct methods or principles.

And how has you as a designer, as a team, kind of unpack that and find a way forward.

Joe: [00:41:09] Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like a topic for the next month.

Brian: [00:41:14] All right. It's time to drink

Joe: [00:41:16] down. Make it work.

Brian: [00:41:27] Thanks for listening. You can hear all of our

Joe: [00:41:31] Yup. And, uh, if you ever want to email us about anything, you can email us at designer at designer dot F M like, subscribe, give us some love and a happy birthday, Brian.

Brian: [00:41:51] Yes.