No Such Thing As Perfect

Q: Is it possible for a designer to look at their designs from a brand new user’s perspective? Over the years, have you learned how to do this even a little bit better than when you began?

Sometimes I feel like I can, and that with more practice I’ll be even better, but people keep saying that I should suck it up and have other people test my designs for me. I learn something new every time, but I wonder if I’ll ever reach a point where user testing reveals what I made is “perfect” and doesn’t need to be fixed.

A: First off, let’s deal with this idea of “perfect”. Nothing you will ever make will ever be perfect. Nothing. Being a good designer isn’t about aiming for perfection, it’s about being open-minded enough to clearly see what’s not perfect. It’s about aiming for what’s better. But the minute that you think perfection is attainable you’ve begun closing your eyes to what can actually be improved.

And no, it’s not possible for a designer to look at their work from a brand new user’s perspective. Over time, you’ll develop a set of heuristic practices that can guide you towards the right solutions, but never for a minute believe that you’ve become the user you’re designing for.

You’re also conflating two very important concepts here. User research and user testing.

Before you design anything, you need to research the users you’re designing for. (And yes. You are designing for them.) Thinking you understand these people’s viewpoints without talking to them is just your ego getting in the way of good work. You don’t. You never will. Use research to help guide your work, (and beware of any solutions that come to you before the research. You’ll just use the research to justify what you’re already wanting to do.)

Once you’ve done the research, and have a design solution that you think works to solve the problem, then you test it. And, yes, it’s a good idea to have someone else test it for you, especially if you’re inexperienced in the process.

My main concern with your question, however, is that you see this process of testing your work as a weakness. It is not. This not “sucking it up”. This is making sure your shit works in the light of day. A designer who’s not willing to have their work tested is hiding something.

You will only ever know what you know. But the work you do will be used by people who aren’t you. They’ll have different backgrounds, different viewpoints, and different experiences. Their minds will solve problems differently than yours will. The more you involve a diverse array of people in your design process the more successful it stands to be.

You will get better with practice. But it’ll be about when, where, and who to ask for help. Not about solo perfection.

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A weekly series where I answer students’ questions about being a designer. Send me your questions.