Designers and how they are perceived has changed quite dramatically in the last few years. While the typical idea of the “Designer” as the ego driven professional still subsides in certain industries, that is a view that has progressively died, particularly as Design Thinking processes have become more successful and prevalent. Designers and the profession itself has in fact matured, and the professionals operating in this industry have become well known as problem solvers and key collaborators in the success of any organization (please read “The Strategic Designer — Tool and Techniques for Managing the Design Process” by David Holston for interesting insights on these topics).
As any professional in any field, we all thrive to achieve a method or develop a process(es) which allows us to better understand the problems we are presented with, and of course, provide well informed and diverse insights. As designers, we thrive to be at the core and genesis of whatever product is being created, collaborating with different teams, in order to better outline scenarios/journeys, while also understanding the multitude of markets where the product can exist or can scale to. Every designer throughout their careers builds an arsenal of techniques, methods, which can be demonstrated in their expertise of diverse tools, how they tackle ideation sessions, research processes, among many other resources, which allows them to bring a layer of knowledge and insight when they are immersed within a team and in the process of creating a product or a feature. These processes and methods vary, and can be further expanded upon, but for the purpose of this article, I want to focus on the Importance of Listening.
This is something that has been addressed in articles and books, but I want to reinforce this part of the design process and how crucial it is when a designer works within a team. Listening is fundamental for any Design Thinking process, since it allows for Designers and their peers to gain further context into the problem at hand, and the whole ramifications that have shaped the problem, but that can also influence the solution. Listening also enables team members to jointly understand the vocabulary of an industry, of the organization and of the product. And this vocabulary includes not only the literal jargon that is at times very specific to certain industries, but also the grammar and semantics, which includes the different layers of users/consumers/clients, understanding observed behaviors, expectations, journeys that are experienced (or expected). Listening also allows to understand the data that was gathered from market research, which of course also includes analytics/metrics, it allows for an understanding of expectations, of trends, among many other sources of input (which also includes gathering input from Customer Support groups, Sales, Reviews when possible). All this wealth of information is important for the designer to immerse himself in the reality of whatever product is being created. This is something that can only be successfully achieved, when you as a design professional acknowledges there is a time to listen and gather the resources which will enable for a truly successful collaboration. The reason to call out this need to listen is associated with the temptation that professionals at times have, to immediately provide direction, without truly listening on what surrounds them, from an organizational standpoint, but also from a client/consumer standpoint. Listening is a practice that requires maturity, insight, patience and the ability to compile what you collect, in order to provide an insightful feedback or direction on where to go. And also, and very importantly, enables Designers to ask the right questions. Acknowledging trends in the design world isn’t synonymous with providing good solutions for a product: it simply replaces one problematic layer with a different one without addressing the core functionality of what needs to be effectively done. It is our responsibility as designers to leverage all the information made available to us, from researchers, user/clients, market researches, team members, strategically shuffle all this information, in order to be able to better collaborate and be an informed catalyst of what comes next.
Practicing Listening, and becoming an expert in that, also allows Designers to become better observers. Design as a discipline looks both outwards and inwards, in order to provide solutions that are sensical, but that also provide inner rewards/satisfaction for users/clients (remembering Don Norman’s three levels of design, Visceral, Behavioral and Reflective is always a good thing to keep in mind). Being present, and being able to listen effectively allows professionals in this field to excel, comprehending in the process, if not the entirety of the road ahead, at least the path which leads to it.