Designing is more fun when you don't take it seriously

I recently learned that designing things is really hard. Like, seriously hard. From the perspective of a Product Designer, designing things is harder than actually making them. That is because designers tend to identify specific problems and create design solutions for certain users. We try to put so much empathy to understand our users and sometimes it’s very exhausting. By the end of the day, we just want to get things done when we’re too tired to think of it. And that, what I personally think, is a pitfall why we’re often stuck when we design things.


As a Product Designer, I often feel that there are a lot of needs that designers have to meet, from the users perspective to business perspective to technology perspective. And if I can be honest, this put me in pressure. It makes me lose fun designing things for other people. The people that I want to help by solving their problems. So I keep questioning myself: What if I don’t take design seriously? What if I don’t over think of the problems? How can I really enjoy designing things for other people?


I realized that design is actually really fun when we don’t over think about it. Not that don’t focus on the result, but enjoying the process really helps me create a fun environment while working. Sometimes having a mind of a child, think of the project as a playground, makes me have more freedom to design.



1. Open up creative minds


I’m often in situations where brainstorming can make me stuck in one thought. It’s normal for designers to follow the design process and do the same methods over and over again. It’s like we have the muscle memory to do step by step of the design process with the same approach: do research, brainstorm to get insights, and define the problems. But if this cycle is a routine for us as designers, it can be a mousetrap for us to achieve a breakthrough.


“Creative results often stem from creative processes.” — Unknown

What happens if we immerse ourselves in various activities? Let’s say instead of having a brainstorming with those colorful sticky notes, use doodling to express and combine our ideas. Instead of creating graphs to map empathy, play some small games that relate to their perspectives.



Juanpinnick/Getty Images/iStockphoto

I found that sometimes it’s boring to do the same methods over and over again. Create a mind map to define the problem, a SWOT analysis to identify the opportunity, a user journey map to understand users are really useful for developing the solutions. But try to think of different new approaches. Think about more playful methods which we can refresh our minds and bring out the best ideas to the table.



2. Designing is a cycle


A design process is a series of beginnings and endings. When we create a design solution and it fails, we think that it’s the end of the world. We’re thinking too much because we’re afraid to fail.


“When we seek perfection, we’re less likely to take risks and more likely to procrastinate — which can stifle creativity and innovation.” — Unknown

My boss always told me it’s okay to fail, it’s okay if we can’t satisfy everyone’s needs. It’s true that we sacrifice some things when we fail, but on the other side, we invest more important learning for the future. The learning that can make us make better decisions.


“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” — Confucius

It’s okay to fail, often. But get back fast.



3. Take a break. Often.


I learned that time constraint could push our creativity out. And our brains can’t really concentrate when we think too much for too long. That’s why having a time constraint and taking breaks are important to keep our productivity.


For example, don’t run a brainstorming for more than 2 hours. The constraint, from a study by Catrinel Haught-Tromp of Rider University’s Psychology Department, makes us think more deeply about options. Constraints tend to make us more creative and help cut down the number of choices to subsets that we find manageable.


After we put too much energy in brainstorming, our brains are just dead after 2 hours thinking. We can’t bring the best of our creative thoughts. This makes taking a break such an important time to recharge our brains. We can also do various things when we take a break, such as going for a walk or watching some silly ads. Whatever we do to refresh our minds can stimulate them to come up with different ideas.




4. You’re not alone


Never think that designers own all the responsibilities for the design solutions. People might think that it’s our job to propose the best design solution. But actually everyone in the team responsible to deliver the solutions in a viable form.


We, or it’s just how I personally think, tend to put too much pressure on ourselves. Because of this, we think too seriously for every step we take. And it affects the way we make decisions. We don’t want to be the one who feels guilty from the decisions we make. This lead to killing our creativity by exploring new paths.


“Creativity is more a collaborative art than a solitary one, no matter who wins the accolades or tweets what in response.” — Jeff Goins

The best way of enhancing our creative output is by sharing our ideas with colleagues. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries have occurred not when a scientist has been working in a lab alone, but when a group of people has collaborated together collectively solving a problem.



5. Saying “I don’t know” is the best way to learn


Someone recently wrote an article that was entitled, “The Hardest Three Words in the English Language to String Together Are, ‘I don’t know.’” Because of the role we have and our domain knowledge require us to have answers. Often I heard someone told me, “You’re a designer, you’re supposed to know what’s the best solution for this problem.” Yeah sure as if I’m a God.


Many people come to designers ask to come up with solutions. When we’re told this way, we often put pressure on ourselves. We’re inclined to think that every problem out there, there must be answers that we should know. And this makes me nuts. I often felt exhausted just to think of what could be the best way to solve the particular problem. I didn’t have the confidence to just say, “Hey, I don’t know the answer. Let’s figure that out together and work on it together.” I’m still working hard to say these three words.


“‘I don’t know’ has become ‘I don’t know yet’,” — Bill Gates

Freeing ourselves from the assumptions really opens up other possibilities for solutions. Saying ‘I don’t know’ really is the starting point of exploring new ideas. Once we say “I don’t know”, it comes up with “We should go and validate it.” Once that happens, it’s much more free. We now have a lot of opportunities to go out there and think about another process that can be explored.


“To create great designs, especially those that are innovative in the marketplace, we need knowledge we don’t have today. Knowledge about our users, about how they work, about what they need to make their lives better. If we don’t get this information, or we guess wrong, we’ll fail.” — Jared Spool

Don’t be too serious. Better say “I don’t know” than making assumptions. And let things go with the flow to explore our creativity.



6. Be happy, and think about making people happy


At the end of the day, I believe what designers want to do is to help people solve their problems. Whoever our target users are, we want to create something meaningful for their lives. And if we’re putting too much pressure when thinking about the end results, it tends to affect our design decisions. 


I often felt stressed out while making decisions. This was because I didn’t put myself in users' end feeling. As a designer, it’s my job to understand their empathy. But often this empathy made me feel unhappy when I thought of their problems. Instead, I should think of the opposite: think of the feeling when users use our product. If we want the users to feel happy, then think about it when we’re working on the project.



Don’t be too hard on yourself while making design decisions. If you want to make users happy, think about that feeling when you’re working on the project. Just by having that in mind, it will lighten your day when designing things.



I believe each designer has his own way to make the design process more fun. These are the things that just came up in my head right now. I think solving problems is really fun. It’s just the way we execute it sometimes make us lose the fun. Anyway, feedback or comment? I’ll really appreciate it!