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Never Stop Improving: The Mindset of a Great Designer

Updated: Jan 20

In order to be the best designer that you can be. You should be familiar with some of the great heuristics that great designers have. What is a heuristic? That's the question that I would ask. A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. Heuristic technique, or a heuristic, is any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, or rational, but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation. Williams Lidwell, author of the best-selling design book, Universal Principles of Design, broke down 10 core heuristics that great designers have pretty well in his lecture called “Pathway to becoming the next Leonardo Da Vinci” based on a comparative matrix. I narrowed them down to eight.

  • Heuristic 1: Elegant Simplicity - We’ve all heard the phrase KISS (Keep it simple stupid). Don’t forget to simplify when you’re designing. We often tend to try to add more and more features thinking that it is what’s needed. Refined design is created through stripping the unnecessary and moving towards simplicity. This heuristic was highlighted not only through design but also in my martial arts journey of studying Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. “Take what is useful and leave the rest”. To be a progressive designer, you want to consider the MAYA Principle, “Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable”. Designing anything that looks too futuristic will be difficult for the general public to accept. So you will have to find that sweet spot between futuristic concepts and the mundane. Lidwell described this as “progressive reduction.”

  • Heuristic 2: Inside-Out Craftsmanship - Detail matters. Be thorough in your design. See it all the way through. Good design does not cut corners. Make sure each and every detail is intentional and visually appealing. Furniture is a good example. Think of IKEA furniture. The front of their dressers/ furniture look great but if you turn it around and look at the back, it’s clear that what is unseen is an afterthought. Obviously the benefit is the cost savings but it’s not a quality of good design. To be a great designer, you have to focus on the details.

  • Heuristic 3: Embracing Failure - Failure is something we are all conditioned to be scared of. Schooling and the common upbringing both encourage success not failure but failure is where the lessons are learned. It’s a part of the process. In creating the light bulb, Thomas Edison once said that “I haven’t failed. I just found 10000 ways not to do something.” Having that mindset is powerful for being a great designer. Don’t fear it because It will happen regardless. It’s a tool for learning. “failure is like a rung on a ladder, you gotta know where it is so you can put your foot on it and move to the next step” - James Dyson. Remove your ego. Fail hard & fail fast. It incites growth. As long as you learn from it.

  • Heuristic 4: Constantly Reinvent “Never Leave Well Enough Alone” - Improve constantly. If you’re not improving, you’re declining. Take care of yourself, feed your mind, keep your eyes open, get inspired & create. Fix the weaknesses and improve the strengths of the design. It can always be better.

  • Heuristic 5: Reframe Problems - Frame the problem by assessing the need. Bruce Lee said “It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!” Reevaluating & reframing the problem gives opportunity for creativity. Understand the problem that needs to be solved at its root not at surface level.

  • Heuristic 6: Customers Don’t Know What’s Right - Consumers don’t have a frame of reference. They only know what they’ve seen & experienced. As a designer and visionary, It’s up to you to observe patterns and behaviors to create something useful and forward thinking that a consumer can easily adapt to and understand.

  • Heuristic 7: Analogical Insights (Proactively make analogies) - Analogical thinking is key to being creative. You have to be able to make connections between different disciplines to create your own original ideas. What you’ve learned and been exposed to up until this point has made you who you are. Capitalize on that. There is only one you. You have a set of unique experiences and ideas that should be cultivated and developed. Get out and explore. Expose yourself to things you’ve never seen before. It will only improve your creativity.

  • Heuristic 8: Be a Zealous Missionary (Believe in your product and yourself) - If you don’t even use them, who else would? Tell everyone what you do and have conviction. The world will respond to your enthusiasm. People will only believe in you if you do. Not to mention, the power of the word of mouth is unmatched. Don’t get caught up in the social media numbers. Every follower counts. Every person that you meet could potentially bring you a new customer in the future. Learn the skills necessary and let the people know.

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