How to pretend you’re a great designer

How to pretend you’re a great designer

Practical tips and principles to trick people into thinking you’re an industry thought leader.

Gabrielle will use delight until your pupils explode

Distract with delight

Don’t know how to justify your excessive use of animations, clever copy, or generic cute illustrations? Just throw the word “delight” in the mix! Talk about how you understand the user’s psychology–how you’re creating an experience people will love. Who cares if your solution is not functional, expensive to build, or if there’s no data to back up your intuition. Remind everyone that you’re building a lasting and emotional connection with the user.

PRO TIP: Show everyone a graph of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and point out how the warm-and-fuzzy stuff is on the top.

Toby is a walking jargon-encyclopedia.

Confuse them using industry language

Never mind that part of your job is making things easy to understand. Use phrases like “A holistic approach” or “brand storytelling” or other jargon that will keep people scratching their heads, afraid to ask what that even means. The more buzzwords you use, the less you have to explain your actual design thinking.

If a stakeholder asks about your reasoning for a design, just say something like“It’s social-minded, guided by our brand values, and built with personality to engage our users through empathy and emotional design”, even when you’re just designing a coupon input box.

Fran advises to be, above all, consistent!

Use Consistency as your ONLY guiding principle

Ignore context––consistency is more important! Your users might have become familiar with iOS, Android, or web patterns but those patterns go against your style guide. You have to be consistent, even if it means the user needs to learn new ways of doing things––they have to check out your unique and sophisticated drop-down menu.

If your PM asks for a design that is best suited for mobile, just say that you’re striving for consistency. And, can’t the developer just make everything responsive and stuff? Being consistent allows you to not think of different solutions for specific scenarios––you can just copy-paste from the kitchen sink and call it a day!

Paul understands aesthetics

Make aesthetics a priority over functionality

Forget about solving the problem with a flow that actually works. Obviously, you just need to copy all those flashy, unpractical effects you saw on Dribbble and apply them to your design. Who cares if research shows that sole icons are inefficient and hard to memorize or that stock photos rarely add value? Stakeholders will be so wowed by all the bouncy animations, Apple-like white space, and left-aligned Swiss types that no one will question if it even works.

Gabrielle uses her magic to turn other products’ solutions into her own!

Learn (copy) from the best

Don’t know how to solve a problem? Just replicate the solution from Amazon, Apple, or Facebook and apply your own style on top of it. When someone challenges you, just say “that’s how Amazon does it”. That will teach them to keep questions to themselves next time! If it worked for Amazon, it must work for you, right? Who cares if you’re not even a marketplace or e-commerce product.

Claude knows how to make a pie chart!

Use research bias

Do you have to justify that design that you spent time on all week? Just create a beautiful graph with cherry-picked data from a survey or test you conducted. The bigger the numbers, the more you’ll impress people with your interpretation!

If anyone asks to see your methods or sources or wants to see the raw data, just tell them you should take that conversation offline and avoid them for the rest of the month.

PRO TIP: If you have the skills, make a spurious correlation slide that will have everyone nodding their heads. E.g. “The bounce rate of our landing page correlates with the downloads of Pokemon Go, therefore, we should add Augmented Reality to our page”.

Fran looks at her work in deep silence.

Make people think you’re busy

There’s nothing better than having a wall full of other people’s work to impress passers-by. Print screenshots of other products and call it “competitive analysis”. Add all your Pinterest pins from other talented designers and call it “inspiration”. Make collages of all the terrible iterations you explored and call it “ideation”. Go for quantity, not quality. It doesn’t matter if what’s pinned to the wall makes any sense or if there’s any actual substance. The important thing is to make people believe that you have a creative and busy mind.

PRO TIP: Stare at the wall for hours in silence. Your coworkers will think you’re really contemplative. Draw eyes on your eyelids and you can sleep while doing this.

Petunia is becoming a great designer!

Use ambiguous visuals

Everybody can draw a Venn Diagram, but can they do it with perfect equilateral triangles?

Impress your coworkers with a double ▲▲ or a triple▲▲▲ triangle diagram. It won’t only make everyone nod at your confusing concepts, but it will establish you as a creative mind that uses simplicity to explain complex ideas.

PRO TIP: Always put the word “VALUE” in the overlapping area of the diagram!

Paul knows how to create a tailor-made product.

Misinterpret Human-Centered Design

You’re not a modern designer if you don’t use Human-Centered Design (HCD for pros). And when I say “use”, I actually mean “talk about it”. Lecture everyone about how they need to understand the needs and abilities of the users. How building empathy is crucial to creating meaningful products. Who cares if other things have been successfully designed in the past without this approach? Don’t bother if this process might not be the best for you. Never mind if tailoring a product to a certain demographic can alienate others. It doesn’t matter if sometimes it’s in the user’s best interest if you ignore their suggestions. Better to impress everyone with how deeply you care about the user.

Paul sure understands his main user.

Stay focused on your market, which is you

Oh, crap. They actually believed you on the whole human-centered thing and now they want an accessible design? Don’t worry, just point out that making a site accessible can take a long time and money. Say that your target market has state-of-the-art computers and internet connection, and they’re all healthy millennials that never even see the doctor. How do you know? You’re one of them! You’re exactly like your users!

And, let’s be honest, accessible design could keep you away from all those marvelous scroll-jacking animations you added to your landing page.

Text labels? Ugly!
High contrast combinations? Awful!
Clear navigation? Despicable!

Don’t concern yourself with reaching a bigger audience by making your design accessible, or with how it actually improves usability or makes your site SEO friendly. You need those parallax animations and that subtle low-contrast color palette that works only on a thunderbolt display.

On a serious note

While all of these “tips” are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, they illustrate sins I myself have committed in the past. And I could say that it’s just a byproduct of how we’re all figuring stuff out as we go. That we’re experimenting with different things, seeing what works and what doesn’t–adapting to the ever-changing user’s needs and technology. And all would be understandable on the surface, but deep down, I have to admit… I sometimes don’t know if what I’m doing is right.

Do you ever feel like that? Fear of the moment when everyone realizes you’re some kind of fraud? That you’re in the process of faking-it-till-you-make-it? I recently learned they call it the “Impostor Syndrome”. I had never felt this as strongly as when I moved to San Francisco. As soon as I started working at a startup, I realized there was a lot I needed to learn. I found myself feeling insecure and lost–utilizing my charm to get other people’s approval. I didn’t think my design work was enough.

But anyway, I think it’s getting better. Or at least I’ve gotten better at pretending.

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