The One Formula You Need To Know In Design

As I stretch more comfortably into my fifties, one thing I can now recall from my late 20s to my mid-40s was how voracious I was to find “the formula” or “secret recipe” for doing anything — not just design. I went through so many books to try to find the best way to design, code, manage, and lead. I was able to purge myself of all of those books by donating them to the RISD library and also to Designer Fund — and I don’t regret swimming through them all because they gave me courage when I needed it the most.

However I have noticed that these days because of the Internet, there seems to be an infinite number of frameworks and process voodoo available to everyone. So when I talk with 20- and 30-somethings today, I have great empathy for the chaos they must feel to find “the one” method that can solve the wickedly hard problem they are facing in their work. They have access to all the possible solutions that were ever considered — it is a gold mine for unending wisdom. Methods that I thought were lost to obscurity like the “KJ Method” have come back in fashion, and I figure it won’t be long until someone starts talking about the Dematel method to me. I feel it is a time of infinite courage if a magical design method can solve a gnarly problem at hand — but which method do you pick? And when you pick it, how much conviction do you need to have (or fake) so that others will believe that it has supernatural powers?

So I feel lucky that the Automattic Design team has recently started to cobble together our own attempt in defining a set of methods for designing products. And they are considered in the context of fully remote working so they have a special set of twists. Are they “the one” method to solve all design problems? Nope. Are they Google-able? Not yet.

1 Comment

One thing I have found both freeing and confusing working at Automattic is that many of these “methods”, articles, books, etc. don’t take the remote structure into context. It’s freeing in that I’ve had to double down on investigating what works on my own. It’s confusing though in that I never am quite sure that what I’m doing is right — it’s not “googleable” :). If you can’t google it, is it a bad idea or an ineffective process? Not sure. Time will tell heh.