Thoughts 01 - What does it mean to Design in the Age of Technology?
Opinion on what it means to design in the age of technology. How we miss the essence of details being trained to seek after ROIs rather than ask the important questions that really draws users.
Michael Karam Byun
Following the thoughts of Designer Kenya Hara, my approach is often about looking deeper into things, I consider this, design. It's not just a part of the design process, but I feel the notion of just looking deeper into things is in itself design.
Kenya Hara states in his book, Designing Design, “The more carefully we look, the more individuality we find.”
What do we discover when observing intently into the mundane? Details. For example, when you stop on your regular walks, you discover details you haven't noticed before. The details are the essence of the development of any design project. I feel today (well, not only today but always): there has been a heavy emphasis on the result, and understandably so. Many times a walk in the neighborhood is about walking from point A to point B. It's more about the satisfaction of having done so rather than enjoying the walk itself.
Similarly, in the fast pace environment today, with many companies and stakeholders asking for ROIs, it’s inevitable to miss details and run straight for the goal. Sacrificing much along the way. It's already challenging to not only have a strong focus both in the visual and functionality in design but also keep up with the users' needs.
Then, what is my definition of details? I’m not speaking of visual details of a final product like the over-dated reference to ‘pixel-perfect’ nor the functional details of having correct links or the spacing and kerning of the typography. It’s not even about small incremental updates to the user experience of a product like creating a faster onboarding or sales funnel process. I’m speaking of details before running with an idea, before setting a framework to work on a visual design, or creating a tangible something. Going along with the walking example; it's the reason for going on a walk: it may be for your physical health, or you may need a break, or it can be an activity with your spouse to build upon a relationship; whatever the reason, the walk starts with a meaningful why. It's more than a goal, it's the essence of the existence of that particular activity in my life.
I feel it's the same with design. I’m speaking of the essence of design. The reasoning before acting. Critically thinking about the meaning and the values and being open-minded to let those ideas flow. The act of designing, meaning carefully looking in, is a scrutinization of the reasons for building a product and observing the correlation of these initial reasons to the current direction of build decisions. You may feel this can be slow or a waste of time. However, I feel Kenya Hara's mention of carefully looking to find individuality is what differentiates products. The act of carefully looking builds a certain je ne sais quoi or charisma. I say that because we are easily mesmerized by what we see, but there's more to it than pretty visuals or monetary results. If visuals were everything, every pretty user interface should be successful. If ROIs like MAUs were everything, many Chinese platforms should be popular globally. We are drawn to more than just form and function. We are drawn to human things, like the reason for existence.
Many speak of the spirituality of Kenya Hara’s approach to design. Spirituality is a religious term, and I feel at one point or another, all religion asks a similar question about existence. Kenya Hara's spiritual approach to design is questioning the reason for the existence of all design projects. In Abrahamic terms, it’s the critical thinking on the meaning behind the first breath given to the lump of clay that became Adam. Design is a profession that critically thinks about the meaning behind giving life to a product. That, to me, is looking deeper into things and a much-needed practice for Designing in the Age of Technology.
I’m not saying I do this, but I would be more than happy to be in a setting where this way of thinking is sought after. The reality of the problem is many companies are not innovation-based but operations based. It’s a world where results, even if the process is cherished, deliver tangible benefits to everyone who currently pays bills. So good luck, fellow designers. If you like this article and want more writings like this, please let me know by commenting and clapping. Thanks always. — Michael Karam Byun @crzikrn
First written on michaelkbyun.com/thoughts — July 13, 2022
Edited – October 6, 2022
Michael Karam Byun
Michael Karam Byun
I like to design and critically think about designing. Designer, systems thinker, creative graphic researcher, emergent tech tinkerer.