The problem with unsolicited redesigns

And how to get them right.


Christian Jensen

2 years ago | 5 min read

I recently wrote an article about how side projects will benefit you and your Design career. One of the most popular types of side projects is the unsolicited redesign. They’re all over Dribbble, Medium, and Design Twitter. In fact, they’re so popular they got their own website.

That’s not to say the love for them is unanimous though. Once you read some of the comments on these redesigns, or do a quick search on Medium, you’ll quickly discover two very different perspectives:

One half of the Design community loves and recommends unsolicited redesigns for all the value they bring — the other half absolutely hates them.

While I can certainly empathize with both camps, I know a properly executed unsolicited redesign can provide all the benefits I mentioned in my previous article.

An unsolicited redesign can be great practice, give you content for your portfolio, let you try out new tools and methods, explore your creativity, and be a lot of fun.

You might not have a great chance of turning your redesign into a business, but you will find a few case studies describing how someone landed a job or a client through an unsolicited redesign. With that being said, I don’t think your goal should be to get hired by the company who’s product you’re redesigning. This simply happens too rarely for it to be a viable strategy.

As for my empathy for the haters, let’s get into the problem with unsolicited redesigns.

The problem with unsolicited redesigns

Designing in the real world is a balancing act between creative freedom and constraints of various kinds. You have a finite amount of time to complete a project, certain features or UI decisions may be out of scope for technical reasons, the budget will obviously put a cap on your research and other activities, and your Design System will limit your creative freedom.

On top of all this, you will undoubtedly run into a series of challenges along the way, forcing you to cut corners, negotiate compromises with stakeholders, and settle for “great, but not perfect”. The fact is this:

When you do an unsolicited redesign of an existing app or website, you're shielded from all the constraints and challenges faced by the Designers and Developers who created the original.

If you’re 1) aware of this, and 2) keep your unsolicited redesign to yourself, you’re home safe. That last part is not what most (aspiring) Designers do though, nor is it what I recommend. Before I address the latter, here's why failing to account for, or at least acknowledge, the real-world constraints is a problem:

You’re in for a rude awakening when you get your first Design job if you don’t realize beforehand that constraints and challenges are part of your job. It’s important that you know this so that your decision to get into Design is based on a proper understanding of the field.

Knowing about the constraints and challenges of doing Design in the real world is an important skill and valuable experience. It’s part of what a potential employer looks at, alongside your other Design skills, when considering you for a job. While you won’t have a ton of experience when you’re first starting out in the field, it’s important to be aware, and show your awareness, of the difference between an unsolicited redesign without any constraints, and a real-world Design project.

You might offend the Designers and Developers who created the original. This is arguably what brings out the most hate toward unsolicited redesigns. Since the people who created the original are painfully aware of all the constraints, compromises, and seemingly awesome ideas that had to be left out, seeing an unsolicited redesign from an outsider can feel like a slap in the face.

Your unsolicited redesign might read as “here’s what you did wrong”, “here’s what you should have done”, “I’m clearly a better Designer than you”. Especially for someone just starting out in the field, I wouldn’t recommend this entrance in the Design community.

Luckily, the problems above are fairly easy to avoid.

How to get your unsolicited redesign right

Don’t think of it as a redesign

The whole problem stems from the idea of remaking something that was already made by others. In other words, design something with an existing company’s name and logo on it, and you’re guaranteed a ton of criticism from Designers who have any kind of relationship with the given product or website.

Don’t think “redesign” — just think “design”. Instead of redesigning Spotify, why not simply design a great music player?

Turn a feature into a standalone app

Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Airbnb, Uber, and even Medium are among the most popular subjects of unsolicited redesigns. However, due to the age, size, and complexity of these products, the teams working on them are dealing with an enormous amount of legacy, constraints, bureaucracy, and scrutiny from various sides that you can’t possibly account for in your one-person redesign project. Don’t assume you can or attempt to do so.

Whether you think of it as a “redesign” or not, instead of attempting a redesign of Facebook in its entirety, pick out an individual feature or part of the system, and reimagine the design of that. How about an online platform to form and get together in groups of likeminded people? Or an app for organizing and promoting events? Or maybe just a messaging app?

Basically, use an existing app as the starting point for your project, but then turn it into something much more original. Design a similar concept from scratch, or turn a feature into a standalone app. If you follow this advice, but especially if you don’t, there are a couple of other things you can do to improve your unsolicited redesign:

Assume the team behind the app or website already considered your solution

Some very skilled people already worked on this and ended up with a solution different from what you consider to be a better one.

There’s probably a good explanation behind that. Stay humble and respectful, and avoid coming across as that guy or girl who thinks they're better than the Design team at Airbnb or Twitter. For an excellent example of this, check out this unsolicited redesign of the Medium Claps feature.

Consider the constraints and challenges you would have to deal with in the real world

Show that you understand how easy an unsolicited redesign is, compared to what the Designers and Developers went through to create the original. Describe how financial, technical and other business constraints could impact a project like this in the real world. Explain how you could, hypothetically, deal with these constraints and challenges, were you a Designer on the actual team.

How would you have kicked off the project? How would you have approached Research to decide on the most important features? Who in the organization would you have talked with to uncover any constraints and challenges? How and when would you have evaluated the technical feasibility of your ideas? How feasible do you actually think your solution is? How about testing the usability and desirability of it?

You would ideally have done some of these things on your own, even in an unsolicited redesign project, but it’s okay to make assumptions and describe “the real world scenario” to strengthen your case even further.

Originally published at on May 12, 2020.


Created by

Christian Jensen

UX Designer, investor, and NFT nerd, writing about innovation, investing, product design, and culture ✍️







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