Think of your favorite children’s song. Now grab a coworker and tap the tune of the song on their hand while you sing it silently to yourself. After you finish, ask them to name the song you just tapped out. According to “Made to Stick“, a book I recently read about why some ideas thrive and others fail, your friend will most likely not know which song you were tapping. Why? The curse of knowledge.
The designer’s curse of knowledge
The curse of knowledge, as explained in the book mentioned above, theorizes that we all have a hard time helping others understand the things that we have such deep understanding of. In other words, when others “just don’t get it” we can’t understand why. This happens to designers all the time! There is a reason why sites like “Clients from Hell” are so popular–designers love to complain about people who just “don’t get it”.
Time for a paradigm shift
I am calling for a shift in the way we look at the non-design community. Instead of treating them like inferiors, designers should embrace their differences, leverage their assets, and appreciate them for what they do know. A paradigm shift is a completely new way to look at a situation. For years, designers have beleived that those we work with should change the way they think and act to conform to what we, as designers, know is best. In addition to being successful entrepreneurs, marketing gurus, or programming specialists, we want them to be designers too.
But as they say, you won’t know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes.
So give it a try: walk a mile in your client’s shoes. Take some time to learn where they are coming from. If they are more knowledgeable in marketing than you are, perhaps their design decision might be best for the project even if it isn’t the prettiest option. Design has never been solely about beauty: we all know that. But it’s time we all take a step back, accept design input from “outsiders” and learn to overcome this curse of knowledge that gets designers so worked up and stressed out.
How to overcome the curse
Many designers know that they need to overcome this curse and make a paradigm shift, but they simply don’t know how. Let me make a few suggestions on how to Design through the eyes of a non-designer.
- For your next design project, outsource the work. Take the role of the client and hire another designer to do the work. Try to consider the business objectives of the project and not worry so much about the aesthetics of it all. This will help you see the design process from the opposite perspective.
- Spend time with a brand new designer. While they may not understand the best ways to utilize line, color, shape, etc., they often have a grasp on other important considerations when it comes to design.
- Ensure your clients understand that you are open to their opinions and, when they make a suggestion to improve a certain aspect of the functionality of design, embrace it, discuss it with them, and–if it’s the best option, implement it.