My Approach

I follow the principles of user-centered design by working to create systems that are strong in Visibility, Accessibility, Legibility, and Language,while considering the intended audience, purpose, and context of the system.

I strive to manifest these principles through the lens of my values and process to achieve the highest levels of quality work.

Values

I’ve found the following values to be those that yield the best work and the best environment to work in, and thus strive to embody them in both professional organizational relationships and in the systems that I design.

These are derived from 2500 year old Buddhist teachings described as the four limitless qualities of mind: kindness, compassion, joy, and fearless equanimity.

  • Openness – An open environment facilitates kindness. An open environment is one in which individuals are not subjected to needless judgment or dismissal, and individuals have time and space to express both new ideas and concerns. Since we are routinely judging and assessing situations, patience with both ourselves and others is also critical with regard to cultivating this type of space.
  • Transparency – An environment of transparency facilitates compassion. When we are able to see what is happening, and understand the causes and conditions that have lead to difficult situations, we are more able to empathize and act compassionately. Transparency means clear communication of relevant information that directly gets to the point. Transparency requires clarity of purpose, goals, and processes.
  • Autonomy – Autonomy provides the conditions for spontaneity and joy in our own work and that of others. When individuals have the space, freedom, and trust to take responsibility and ownership for their work and prove their capability, we can take joy in their genuine accomplishments and contributions.
  • Accountability – To be accountable is to be willing to accept responsibility for one’s actions, be they successes or mistakes. An environment in which individuals hold one another accountable encourages fearless equanimity. When people are willing to take responsibility and hold others responsible for promises and actions, then any anxieties or fears about speaking out in challenging situations are mitigated, which makes everything easier and more efficient.

  • Trust – To have trust in another person means having confidence that they will act in a responsible manner with a certain degree of kindness, compassion, good humor, and fearlessness. This means that there is much less work necessary to check that the four prior values are being upheld, because we have confidence that this is all happening automatically. An environment of high trust is one in which systems operate with great efficiency and that naturally creates potential for extraordinary creativity.

Process

I’ve found that thinking about the creative process of design in terms of two general areas of Definition and Production (represented below by the classic Yin-Yang) broken down into phases to be a helpful way of considering the different types of work involved.

Balancing Definition and Production is a continous process that is dependent on a variety of conditions including the stakeholder goals, resources, and market activity, so the following phases are not a strict order but a tool for placing design activity in context.

Definition

These phases are about understanding key problems, articulating this understanding to reach team consensus on the problem definition, and mapping potential solutions. The principal goals are novelty and consensus.

Production

These phases are about manifesting solutions through visual language and interface designs, copywriting and documentation, and software development. The principal goals are clarity and consistency.

Quality

We have a feeling that quality products help us to order our lives so that we can live efficiently and have surplus resources to continue to pursue meaningful activities. Why else would we buy anything? Yet quality itself is an abstract concept and difficult to define, in spite of its importance.

The remarkable book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance grappled with the subject of quality with a capital Q over hundreds of pages through the lens of Western philosophy with a dash of Zen Buddhism:

Quality is neither mind nor matter, but a third entity independent of the two ... even though Quality cannot be defined, you know what it is.

Robert M. Persig

I came across this book before having any interest in motorcycles or Buddhism, but was stunned by the sprawling meditative conceptual explorations across the pages, which no doubt planted seeds for my activities to come. Years of meditation and wrenching motorcycles apart later, I’ve come to what I feel are some effective working guidelines for quality in the realm of product design that comfortably function in the domain of both mind and matter.

A product of middling quality merely functions. This is to say, it solves some problem for a certain amount of time. It is a prototype, or mass-produced inexpensive import. It’s Geocities, or the inexpensive imported tea kettle from China.

A product of good quality functions for a long time. It’s Craigslist, or an old 10 speed Schwinn bicycle. They just work.

A product of excellent quality functions well for a long time, and is designed well, beautifully even. It inspires, because of its elegant congruence between function and form. It’s the Honda CB450, it’s Gmail.

A product of extraordinary quality is designed beautifully, functions well over a long period of time, and does so in a new way. It breaks pre-existing concepts and creates new categories of possibilites. It’s the iPhone, or Tesla Model S.

There’s a time and place for each type of quality, because quality is also contextual and relative to its environment and the needs of individuals. What is now a middling quality tea kettle was once an extraordinary product. And what is now middling for one person may be extraordinary to another.

For my part, I find the pursuit of high quality in my work to be quite enjoyable, and aim to balance this pursuit in accordance with my values.

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