Design, consumerism, perfection

Something I’ve become aware of, and increasingly uncomfortable with, is how consumerism is shaping design and how design is shaping consumerism.

Consumers (myself included) love great experiences

We go to places like Disney where we are wowed and astonished by the experience. We marvel at the little details that have been perfected. We can make a purchase in just 2 clicks through Shopify and it feels so good. We feel seen and known when we find software that does something we had been doing in an ugly spreadsheet.

Designers have to advocate and fight for resources

When designers see these amazing stories, we know that the resourcing was deep to make it happen and feel validated that the massive investment was worth it.

We lament, “If I had only been involved earlier! If only we had more designers! If only I could make the decisions!” And in this lament, a subtle messaging appears — that design would fix everything, it’s the missing piece, the silver bullet.

So to receive the same resourcing, we arm ourselves with case studies and talking points. To our stakeholders and executives we go with a grand vision and promises that it would all be better if there was design.

A vicious cycle is created.

Design promises perfection and users increasingly are demanding it. Then one day, the designer doesn’t live up to the promise.

Users demand perfection and design promises perfection — leaving designers in precarious positions.

I saw this happen to a company I love who launched a redesign and the backlash was…horrific. Sure, there were some legitimate objections to some of the design decisions made, and, the company’s response was quite poor, but the level of vitriol that came out shook me to my core, as a designer myself.

Before, there was grace because users knew there wasn’t a designer behind it — but now there is, and in their demand of perfection they wondered why it wasn’t there.

As I have new work coming out, I find myself with more anxiety at each release. I wonder if, despite the testing and thinking, is this the one where I screw up massively?

How do we soothe the cycle?

From my seat as a designer

While there is little I can do to control how much perfection a consumer demands, I can control the messaging I’m using around design.

  • Design allows us to avoid major surprises usually, not always.
  • User research is to learn more, not everything.
  • Design sprints get us moving, not to the perfect idea.
  • Testing can help predict, but there is a mystery to what will really happen.

And most importantly, releasing with humbleness and with openness.

In my last big release, I was grateful to work closely with our change manager to shape the language about this release — we acknowledged that what we were releasing had followed a new design process and we hoped that it would be better than before, but made no promises that it would be perfect.

In other words, we asked for grace for grace from our users.

From my seat as a consumer

Designers often have a critical eye towards everything and I have contributed to the cycle of criticizing. As a consumer myself, I also have a responsibility towards breaking this cycle. I deliberately am softening my eye and reminding myself that there are very few designers sitting around trying to make my experience hard.

In other words, I myself must give grace.

Holding a tension

There is a tension of values though, while I want to be giving more grace, there are real consequences when design is both not in the picture and when design gets it wrong.

Instead of a vicious cycle where designers are locked in an impossible battle for perfection, I believe we can both champion for more grace and champion for more design.

Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, working with yarn, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.

Digital Designer

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