San Francisco, California

Capacity

Sometimes I worry that I don’t have the intellectual or creative capacity for design. I guess I’ve spent enough time working as a designer at this point that I can tell if something is good or not. When it’s bad I get uncomfortable and I begin to squint at the UI until my brain hurts and I groan. That doesn’t mean that I know how to fix the problem though. And that’s where I worry about my capacity for this kind of work.

I’ve been in a ton of design crits where I’ve looked at a design, felt that familiar haze of confusion where nothing makes sense, and then unhelpfully said “I don’t think this works but I cannot for the life of me tell you why.” Debugging complex UX decisions on the spot feels like trying to listen to someone speaking Dutch whilst you’re also solving a flexbox issue whilst also learning how to read Aramaic. Explaining why things don’t make sense is sometimes just as difficult as explaining why a particular color or a font doesn’t match another. There are rules, there is a kind of science to this work, but expressing it is almost impossible.

In a design the problem is never the work of colors or fonts alone. It’s how things are structured, organized, divvied up. How things are bucketed and described. On this note, I remember one time seeing a design manager’s poorly organized spreadsheet many years ago and I caught myself thinking how on earth can I trust you? How can you possibly be desinging a billion dollar web app when you can barely organize text into columns and rows?

A couple of months (?) ago I mentioned that if I ever ran a design course I would let folks pick a big book—it doesn’t matter which so long as it’s their favorite—and then get them to typeset it in eight different ways. And I think I now have an idea for the second lesson: here is a bunch of messy data, I’d say, now you must gather it together, synthesize it, unbundle it. We’ll then discuss how your spreadsheet uses rows/columns, headings, and color to make this information clear.

My point with this long ramble? Spreadsheets are cool, I guess.