Why I want to slap everyone in design

I read this following quote today and it got me thinking. There is an obsession with disciplinary ownership that we’re all guilty of, be it ethnographers, designers or CPAs. It’s grounded in arrogance, in part, but it also stems from fear and small-mindedness. And unfortunately, it is a reality we always need to keep in the backs of our minds. It’s all about power:

“Design today has been infiltrated and hijacked by many different disciplines that are not related to the creation of a superior design. They become a curtain to vail and sell an average design to a client who is not versed in the design process. A good design is always led by a design creator who is willing to listen to other inputs and consider their value to the basic concept but who will champion the final result.”

I’d laugh if it weren’t so sad. This is another example of one-size-fits-all thinking. It is binary and rooted in a product development culture that assumes user feedback and user-generated ideas should be either dismissed or taken at face value rather than being tools which can be used to inform us about deeper concepts. Black and white solutions and self-obsessed disciplinary approaches lead to stellar art, but they rarely lead to real innovation – or good design. There are numerous examples of products that failed or were poorly designed because of what users said or because of how information was misinterpreted. There are an equal number of products and campaigns that would show otherwise. Gogurt, Listerine Citrus, the marketing campaign for the Mini Cooper, the MacBook Air as a fashion statement (not just a computing tool), and the list goes on. The idea that user-centered design, or context-centered design means “user-as-leader” is absolutely false.

Unfortunately, too many designers, business “leaders,” account planners, etc. equate ethnography and other observational methods with surface-level statements rather than the depth for which these methods were designed. 

The quote is yet another example of obtuse thinking and an obsessive need to force the world into an either/or pattern of design. It assumes that somehow individual inspiration and informed research methods are at odds. Got a headache, take aspirin. Got a gunshot wound, take aspirin. If the design is bad, say that people “just don’t get it.”  It serves as a reminder that there will always be champions for the same old linear thinking.


Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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