What is your design philosophy?

And other creative lessons from Adam Savage

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Photo by m0851 on Unsplash

Adam Savage was tired of working in Jamie Hyneman’s workshop, literally.

The co-host of Mythbusters would advise, plead, or get angry with the other co-host because he couldn’t stand the way that the tools were organized.

There was only one spot in Jamie’s 5000 sqft workshop where hammers were located: The machine shop. If he wanted a hammer while working in another part of the workshop (say, on the Mythbusters set), he would have to walk all the way to the machine shop to get one.

It got so bad that he started viewing every tool around him as a hammer, which is the name of Adam’s latest book.

It took Adam several years to understand why Jamie organized things the way he did: It was because of his upbringing as a farm boy. Jamie would use that time walking from place to place to think about the problem in-depth: that slow meticulous nature carried over to not only his making philosophy, but the way he designed his workshop.

Likewise, Adam has a profound hatred of drawers because he wanted all of his tools not only visible, but easy to access. His making philosophy is all about speed, and trying to iterate quickly through a number of attempts.

Reading this book got me thinking about design philosophy. It was clear that Adam understanding his design philosophy, from how he works to how he wants tools arranged has had a dramatic impact on his work.

So why not figure out what your design philosophy is?

You might be saying to yourself right now, well that’s a different field.

As designers, we know what we should say is our design philosophy.

It’s to be efficient, effective, user-friendly, with pixel-perfect precision and an eye for detail. Not to mention effective collaborators that are willing to present to leadership as well as work with developers to create seamless user interactions.

(Side note: I’m getting good at buzzword speak, I’m not sure I like it)

There’s a standardized design process (also known as the McDonaldization of UX), which means there should theoretically only be one philosophy.

Yes and no.

What work we do may be similar, but not how we work or organize our thoughts. Not to mention, what we want to learn or what our toolkit looks like.

But the simplest way to show this is to turn attention to myself.

This is still something a little new to me, but thinking about my past experiences made this pretty obvious.

My family is all about healthcare. I have family who are doctors, medical technicians, and medical researchers. Even though I didn’t choose that path, my interests still lie in healthcare: my UX Graduate research was about healthcare.

I mention this because data and access are scarce: I must have watched the same surgical videos dozens of times try and learn different things (what are fatiguing motions, where are conversation breakdowns, etc.). An interview with an actual surgeon was mined for every possible scrap of data, because that was a rarity.

Which is why it annoyed me to give disposable research presentations at another job. I’d give Powerpoint or Keynote presentation talking about what our user needs or findings were, and then it would be buried into some shared drive folder.

Then a few weeks later, a meeting would occur which ran contrary to the findings, with no one thinking to bring up the presentation. We’d express concerns, but the research quickly became ‘our opinion’.

But what if I could create portable visual representations of those results? Something simple enough that I didn’t have to be the one to explain it: it could largely speak for itself?

So that a new designer joining a project, or a developer implementing the code, could use it as a reference?

Just by knowing what my design philosophy is, a number of things fell into place. Not only how I want to re-design my personal branding, but also my design goals for 2020. These include:

  • Building a pattern library/templates based on past work
  • Learning more about data visualization and how to implement it successfully
  • Practicing infographics and iconography
  • Creating lasting design artifacts (Personas, Journey Maps, Storyboards)

Knowing your design philosophy not only helps to influence your work, but what you might want to learn and how you approach your problems.

Just for fun, here is how I might break down Adam and Jamie’s design philosophy. This is literally based on one book, so there may be some inaccuracies.

Adam Savage’s Design philosophy:

  • Find use cases where you have the opportunity to practice with a tool
  • Jump into playing with design tools with a rough idea of what to build
  • Fail quickly and efficiently. Iterate multiple times while playing with tools to get a deeper understanding of how to use something
  • Have all of your tools visible and easily reachable. Perhaps a messy desktop with links to all of your tools and files or messy browser with lots of bookmarks.
  • Design can often show parts of his personality
  • Drawers (or folders) are for hiding things, like tools that aren’t quite good or duplicates.

Jamie Hyneman’s Design philosophy:

  • Measure twice, cut once. Make sure that you know the scale and scope of what you’re building
  • Think about the process meticulously before even touching a design tool.
  • Having a design toolbox that is organized by categories. Storing Research and Design separately, along with specific locations for testing and implementation software. Organized folders or specific bookmarks on a somewhat minimalist desktop.
  • Creation of design artifacts (Storyboards, Personas, etc.) as an integral part of design process
  • Hard work is hidden until necessary for alternatives to be discussed

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning: https://tinyurl.com/y5m2j42v

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