Interaction 18: Turns out the last and ultimate design tool is the oldest one

Five of our designers went to Lyon, France to reflect on how technology and design are shaping the world. In the end they found themselves asking simple questions.

Interaction 18

2018-02-22 – 2 min read

What is critical thinking to us?

In the context of the work we do as designers, critical thinking often means asking common sense questions to find out if what we're working on is meaningful and meets the needs of the people we are designing for. However, these needs are often paired with what makes sense to our client and their business. So, in simple terms, the challenge is often to find a way to create something that the users like and something that makes our client's business better. This was a theme many seemed to examine as they gave us their views on design at Interaction 18 in Lyon, France.

How to think critically

Fortunately, it's a responsibility we can share and should not have to carry alone. By educating non-designers and not keeping our tools and processes to ourselves, we can help everyone in the long run by giving others the means to evaluate, critique and appreciate design. Design sprints are a great example, where often the greatest gains to the client come from learning from the process itself and the way of working.

We often seem to assume that critical thinking among professionals is something that happens by default, but having an environment that encourages people to challenge and defend their work requires effort. We need to be mindful of how critical we are, as being overly critical can easily turn against us.

”Thoughtful writing and criticism are inherently optimistic because they imagine a better world.”

- Khoi Vinh, Principal Designer at Adobe

Being critical does not have to mean allocating specific timeslots for being critical or appointing people to take the role of a critic. It means having a culture where people share the value of critical thinking and are willing to subject their thinking to scrutiny. This, we have found, can sometimes happen in our weekly discussions between designers, but more often it happens spontaneously at the moment it is most needed between people communicating well with each other. Willingness to have critical discussions comes from understanding the value of good critique. As Khoi Vinh, Principal Designer at Adobe, put it in his keynote: ”Thoughtful writing and criticism are inherently optimistic because they imagine a better world.”.

Even though our industry has advanced in many aspects, there are no shortcuts to creating meaningful high quality work. Anyone can download Business Model Canvases and fill them in as guided. We can easily make customer journey flows and find the key triggers within project teams. However, how we successfully navigate among the tools we are offered and how we make the best use of them depends on our ability to challenge our thinking. The ultimate design tool for us, is being critical.

How to have critical discussions in a useful way then? No bullet points here, as it really depends on the individual to seek conversations that are most useful. The real challenge of is finding people who best elevate your work, and to find them when they are most needed.

You can watch all the presentations from Interaction 18 here.

Here is a good summary of some of the most interesting talks by Nordkapp´s Sami Niemelä.

Be sure to come to our first ever IXDA Helsinki meeting on 22.3.2018. More information about the event soon.

(Cover image: A Visit to the Studio by Jean Carolus)

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Written by

Jonathan Ben-Ami

Jonathan is a Designer at Motley

Esa Hallanoro

Esa is a Creative Director at Motley

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