A second and 34 years

I’ve been in the Microsoft Research division working as an interaction designer for just over a year, after 10 years working on software products like Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. One of the recurring issues I’ve hit, on both the product and research side of the business, is explaining how designers work to people with a more structured education, and particularly where designer’s ideas come from.

There are many aspects to this question, some of which are about techniques, tools and processes. One aspect is about instinct, and how ideas can just ‘pop’ into designers heads. I’m not saying design always happens that way. Sometimes it takes a lot of work. But this question of instinct, and how designers exploit it, can be the toughest to explain, particularly to those people who have very scientifically rigorous approaches to their own disciplines. This video of Paula Scher from Pentagram communicates that aspect of what designers do – trusting their instincts – in the best way I’ve seen.

A few choice quotes:

  • ‘I operate very strongly with my instincts’.
  • ‘It’s problematic because a lot of clients like to buy process and they think they’re not getting their money’s worth because I solved it too fast…’.
  • ‘If I don’t get it in the first crack I get it in the second. If I don’t get it in the second I almost never get it because, like I said, it’s a very intuitive kind of process’.’I drew the Citibank logo, after we had the first meeting, I drew it on a napkin and walked out’.
  • ‘It is done in a second. It’s done in a second and 34 years. It’s done in a second and every experience and every movie and every thing of my life that’s in my head’.




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