Design relevance vs. excellence

Jon Bell gives a wonderful talk on relevance vs. excellence in design. Here are some paraphrased notes:

Designers have an antenna. Designers are good at seeing when something is slightly off or could be slightly better. The problem with this antenna is that it leads us to following hero designers like Paul Rand, Stanley Kubrick or Steve Jobs. We look at them and think that because their antennas were so good, all we need to do is get a really great antenna and then we too can change the world.

It turns out that’s wrong. The designer antenna has a giant blind spot. There are three painful truths:

  1. Great design does not speak for itself. Great design is vital but it’s the first step of many. You have to sell your design, explain it.
  2. Designers are really lousy at communicating why their design is great. We need to get better at this. No one ever changed the world from inside. From Photoshop. You start in Photoshop and then you make it happen in the real world. Designers need to stop grouping together in a tiny “pink dot”, isolated from the rest of the world.
  3. Design is communication. But communication is political. As soon another human being is involved in the design process, it becomes political. Product design is politics.

Jon goes on to talk about how most designers are not Rand, Kubrick or Jobs, and how designers can learn to make their designs relevant to people so their designs can escape the “pink dot” and thrive in the wider world.