The Boring Designer
Whenever I’m looking at a product designer’s work, I find myself continuously asking the same question: which solution is the boring one? Maybe it’s born out of seeing apps choose flash over function, or trying to understand just one too many indecipherable icons-as-buttons. Whatever the case, here’s an ode to the boring designers among us. The designers who…
Choose obvious over clever every time.
If you haven’t read Randy Hunt’s book on Product Design, you haven’t lived. I’m stealing this first one right out of there. When given the choice between hiding things on hover or displaying them right away, the boring designer always chooses the latter. Sure, it might be harder to achieve that perfect visual balance your graphic design teachers drilled into you, but you love a good challenge, right? You value your users’ experience over your own. Maybe you wince a little at the “compromises” you’ve made, but your users are benefiting and that’s all that matters.
Rarely stand their ground.
The boring designer chases the right idea over their idea every time. They respect their team and will try almost any idea (whether on a whiteboard or in Sketch or in code) that gets thrown their way. Instead of arguing about whose idea should win, the boring designer tries all the ideas and even elevates others’ ideas in the process. The boring designer abhors groupthink and being told “yes.” They consistently request feedback and new ideas. And as a result when they feel super passionately about their own idea, the team listens.
With infinite time and resources we could do anything, but the boring designer knows we have neither of those things. We have super talented people working together for a finite period of time. The boring designer maximizes their process and work for the team and the timeframe. Sometimes that means re-skinning a UI and making some light design/copy changes to enable the engineering team to focus on making the page loads lightning fast. Other times it means taking a V1 idea and making it a V2 or V3 idea in order to prioritize other features. Whatever the case, the boring designer supports the team and doubles down on the plan.
The boring designer realizes that the glory isn’t in putting their personal stamp on everything they touch. In fact, most of the time, it’s about leaving no trace of themselves. The boring designer loves consistency. The boring designer loves a style guide. They love not having to worry about choosing the wrong blue or accidentally introducing a new pattern. They pick and choose the right moments to upgrade or update existing laziness-promoting tools, but are open to being persuaded not to do so (see the “Rarely stand their ground” section). If no laziness-promoting tools exist, the boring designer temporarily allows themselves to be super-exciting so they can create those tools and go back to being boring once more.
Lead the team.
You’d think with all those traits, the boring designer would get run over or ignored most of the time by their teammates and fellow designers. This turns out very rarely to be the case. Most people come to the boring designer first with questions about their work or plans. They trust the boring designer to look at their goals and problems with a practical eye. If there’s The Big Idea, the boring designer is fantastic at finding a reasonable step one instead of making The Big Idea the starting line.
The boring designer is trusted and valued, because people know they’re in it for the product and the user. The boring designer asks questions and leans on others’ experience and expertise, creating even more trust over time. They rarely assume they know the answer.
The boring designer is capable of being one of the best leaders a team can have.
So be great. Be boring.
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