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Let me begin with a potentially unusual statement: There are several design disciplines which make me jealous.

Ian Walton

The frequency of Friday posts of late probably says something about my work ethic come the final morning of the week. Or perhaps after a full week of work we’re at our most introspective, I’m not sure. Either way, for better or worse, it’s become a bit of a habit. This week I’ve noticed time and time again several things regarding the idea of feedback which help me to function to the best of my ability as a designer. I want to capture these here today.

Back in the early days of this journal we wrote a piece called “Websites are Taxis, Products are Trains” which I think touched on the point I want to make today, albeit in a far more condescending manner. In that piece we bemoaned the idea that industrial design (ID) projects often took over a year while web projects took weeks. That was almost four years ago and I think somewhat naïve. The ideas which I wrote about in that piece were not fully formed and the net result was a bit of a rant. Today I will try to be more clear in what I mean.

 

Let me begin with a potentially unusual statement: There are several design disciplines which make me jealous.

 

Namely graphic design, digital/web design, illustration, photography and in fact many of the craft disciplines also. Some of this might be fuelled by our studio space where I live in close proximity to people working in these disciplines, I’m not sure. Either way I have caught myself feeling a little green on several occasions of late.

They make me jealous due (broadly) to the efficiency and speed of the processes involved. Many projects within these practices start, happen and finish within the space of weeks. Indeed on some occasions only days pass from the delivery of a brief to the implementation of the final result. The practitioners working in these areas can see the fruits of their labour make it through the design process and out into the real world reasonably quickly. Designers can see how that real world reacts to and interacts with the outcomes.

This doesn’t in any way, shape or form detract from the work they do. This doesn’t in any way take away from the skill, thought and effort that goes into these projects. Please don’t think for a moment that I am belittling these disciplines, quite the opposite. If anything it can sometimes be more challenging to maintain both energy and standards when projects come and go at speed. I am constantly impressed by the quality and quantity of thinking that can be infused into design work when it happens at such a rate.

 

So why am I jealous?

 

I am not jealous because more projects get completed, or because portfolios fill up faster. I am not jealous because designers get to work with more people or in more diverse spaces. I’m not even jealous that cashflow is more manageable and predictable. Well, maybe slightly on that last one, but it’s not my central point.

I am jealous because design work makes it into real life swiftly and at regular intervals. More to the point I am jealous that this design work can be consumed and interacted with by real people, in real locations, with real opinions every few weeks. Even more specifically I am jealous that designers get to experience this with some form of rhythm and consistency. They get to see and hear opinions on their work — the work gets to breath.

 

I have come to realise that this is all about feedback. In my opinion, and others may differ, there is nothing more energising and satisfying than seeing your design work inspire a reaction. This reaction is feedback be it positive or negative, and this reaction closes the feedback loop on a design project.

 

Too often in the ID world we engage in lengthy and overly process-oriented projects which never see the light of day. When consumer product design projects do make it through the entire process it can often take over a year from a first meeting to the appearance of product on shelves. By this stage product designers are often far removed from the process. The feedback loop never closes, and the designers involved never gain that crucial final piece of the project.

This is not going to change any time soon. Sure, product development timelines are shrinking by the day but only by small factors. It is unlikely in the consumer product design discipline that the feedback loop will ever really close on a very frequent basis.

So I have tried to adapt to address this, and to do so I get involved in as many personal design projects as I physically can while maintaining some sort of work-life balance. These projects are intentionally quick-to-final-product, they are focused on the making of real things with some sort of efficiency. For me this closes the feedback loop with far more regularity than the day job, and in doing so it fills that important gap that is too often missing in ID.

Many designers are fully satisfied by the process of designing, or don’t need to see the outcomes of these projects in the hands of real people. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If however you are like me and you feed off feedback, I suggest you focus on ways of closing the loop. That might be part of the day job or otherwise.

Have a great weekend.