Design beyond pixels, bits and our work

Shelf in my living room – I can’t help but design and arrange things

Shelf in my living room – I can’t help but design and arrange things

Design is all around us, this is not a new sentiment. If you pick something up in our modern world it has most likely been designed. With some consideration on how it was meant to be used, perhaps a feeling that it is meant to evoke, the people that are meant to use it and of course the dollars that is going to make for the people who created it. There are design systems all around us from a fork that exists in a cutlery set, to existing in a dining experience that exists in our lives when we finally use it. From our homes to restaurants, the fork takes on many forms and is a vehicle for delivering varying experiences. A fork designed for a fine restaurant provides a different a experience to the person using it, than when they are in their shorts hungover on their couch, with one hand on their phone scrolling on instagram, fork in the other whilst eating microwaved leftovers. Context is important when designing so move beyond just the pixels and bits. But isn’t this just UX? Sure but let’s zoom out further.

Houses, roads, cars, planes, hospitals, schools this is all a system of urban planning. If you stop to take a look around there are interesting problems that exist. Traffic on roads can be alleviated through better design and urban planning. What if all transport and cars were autonomous then the need for parking could help with congestion – with better transport facilities for areas with high density and not much space. Less cars operating in this high density spaces means less traffic. This is a system that has many variables at play from people, vehicles, safety, legislation, social acceptance and so on. You might think about how this helps your work? But having an awareness to look around. An to have empathy for the problems that people face, you will become more equipped to think about problems and solutions more analytically. 

There are interesting problems that exist that can be solved everyday,  what frustrations do you encounter?  Consider this design, the dreaded clamshell packaging design. Don’t know what it is? It’s this here.

Image from

Image from

It’s purpose is for people not to steal small goods, for customers to see the product inside easily and it’s cost effective because it’s easier to ship. All valid points from the manufacturer/sellers point of view. But what about the person who want’s to use the product. First off if you are are buying scissors how the fuck do you open this thing? That is the first conundrum. That’s one piece of context. If you do have access to scissors opening it is still a fucking nightmare. Ever heard of the term wrap rage? Nope me either but it’s been linked to packaging like this and when I encountered packaging like this I can see why. I swear opening something like this will most likely result in injury. *exagreation* They should put this kind of packaging under the tier 1 dangerous weapons Act. Jokes aside, think about the experience of opening something like this. Think about the emotions that dictate this experience. Frustration, anger and then finally relief when you finally get the product and don’t get cut. Yay! Scissors. 

What about opening something on the opposite end of the spectrum?  I always remember the first moment I opened my first Macbook Pro back in 07 (haha showing my age). Seems pretty trivial right it’s just opening a box. But I remember the feeling of excitement and that new Macbook smell. I was a broke junior and to see everything so meticulously prepared it, it felt so premium and luxurious. Months of saving and anticipation, the box opening experience was a memorable one, everything just felt so considered and refined. I hadn’t even used the product yet but that was exciting. The context is thinking about the product from an end to end experience. This experience is not pure coincidence as Apple have a dedicated box opener that tests various box designs to find the perfect one that evokes that sense of joy/excitement. You can read about it hereA great solution starts at looking at the big picture, having context and then refining down and looking at the small details.

Designs move beyond bits and pixels, the skills and principles we learn are applicable to things in our everyday lives. Two weeks ago I talked about learning new things weekly, here’s an example of that. The problem that existed: 

  1. I suck at keeping plants

  2. Our plants would die when we went on holidays and because I suck at consistently water them on time.

  3. The plants were getting full sun from the harsh Australian heat in summer so they were more likely to die.

So I tried to use the same design process to problem solve my way out of this.

  1. I researched and learnt how to setup and design an irrigation system

  2. I implemented my “theoretical” knowledge and bought all the parts

  3. I synthesised the theory by actually doing it and putting everything I’d learnt into practice. I put together the system – cut the pipes, installed the drippers and implemented the automatic timer. 

  4. I was not ambitious this time and bought plants that were suited to the climate and easier to maintain. Idiot proof plants for people like me haha.

There could’ve been other solutions. I could have changed my behaviour and made sure I watered consistently on time. If I were to go overseas I can give the house keys to a friend or family member. (I tried this once) I could have bailed on plants and gotten fake plants etc. But I stuck with the automatic irrigation system plan and this is the result of that. 

The solution isn’t perfect though. The automatic timer leaks from the tap for some reason, so I need to look at the part that is causing the issue. Like most solutions it needs refinement and iteration once it’s in the live environment and can deliver feedback. So take a look around there are many challenges that can use the thinking and craftiness of a designer that doesn’t relate to pixels or bits. 

To me being a designer never really stops. My reality is a designed reflection of who I am. My life seeps into my work and my work seeps into my life. I wouldn't have it any other way. Keep designing and keep looking around beyond the medium that you work in and it will keep you sharp as a designer.