How to stimulate passionate design
by Damian Rees, Founder & UX Director

How to stimulate passionate design

We have a fairly simple theory here at Experience UX; if a design doesn’t work, it’s usually because the designer’s motivation and passion was lacking. We use the term ‘designer’ fairly loosely here. It may be an individual designer working on a website, a small team of architects working on a building, or a whole project team working on a completely new product or service for a company.

One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested

Whatever the definition the role of designer is critical to the success of the project. The difference between a passionate, highly motivated design team can be enormous compared to a jaded, restless, and unmotivated team. To help identify what type of designers you’re working with we’ve identified 3 types of designer motivation;

Motivation 1 – Maintaining security – If a designer is motivated because of job security alone you are likely to have problems. He or she will work competently for fear of losing their job, that next promotion or their next big pay cheque. This is a common motivation for design work, and more often than not, designers will create solutions because they are told to and paid to, and not because they want to.
Chase your passion not your pension

Motivation 2 – Social acceptance & recognition – Some designers are motivated more by social acceptance. If they design something which is funky, cool or cutting edge, they’ll gain the respect of their peers. They may win awards or get a nice feature in an industry magazine. Sadly, the way design school works tends to encourage this behaviour. The constant sought after approval from tutors and peers through peer reviews and critiques means that student designers become accustomed to designing for designers. It’s the way the industry works too, it’s full of self-appreciative back slapping with awards, magazines and websites where other people gush about the latest and greatest.

Motivation 3 – Passion to stimulate change – Then there are those who design because of their passion for change. They see something wrong with the world and they believe it should be better. They dream of a better website, product or service, one that really works for the people using it, one that really solves the problem. These people really believe in what they do and their solutions come from the heart.

Passion is the key to successful design

It’s clear who you would want to design your project. So, how can you find someone who’s a passionate designer?

Spotting someone among the designer crowd should be fairly easy. When you’re looking through designer’s portfolios and discussing the job with them it’s a good idea to look at how they present previous jobs. Do they outline the problem they were solving, or do they just focus on the design they came up with? Do they talk about why they worked on the project, or do they prefer to quickly move on to the next job in their portfolio? Ask them about their biggest challenges and achievements and if you get the feeling that it’s all about awards, or a lack of real passion for what they were doing, you’ll know. Passion is hard to fake and you’ll know when you see it. It’s in the eyes, the tone of voice, and in the little details offered to you that you didn’t ask for.

Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion

But, what if you’re not in a position to select a new designer? Or you’ve found a designer who was passionate on different kinds of projects to this one. Well, the honest truth is that you might not be able to get them passionate about something that doesn’t flick their switch. Some people just won’t get excited by the project and they won’t be able to get fully behind it. Let’s face it, designing some services are much more exciting than others. They may well still be professional, but you might not get the added boost of passion that will make the difference behind an OK project and a great one. However, there are some things you can do to stimulate the passion in your designers:

1) Clearly define the problem

It sounds obvious, but you may not have set out clearly the purpose for the project. If you have to, write out a clear mission statement and clearly explain the reason why the problem exists. It can be really useful to get people to engage using a powerful story. For a really good read on how to use stories to influence this book ‘The Story Factor’ is excellent

2) Show them the bigger picture

Broaden the scope and show them how this project is connected to the wider picture. What else is reliant on this project working? What is reliant on that? Where do their efforts fit into it all? Although the project may not inspire them, the bigger picture might connect with them more.

3) Show them why it matters

Use real people wherever you can to show them why the problem exists. Get the end users of the system to demonstrate the issues or to talk to them in person about what they need and why it doesn’t work for them now. Help them see the people who will benefit and the real end result of their efforts.

4) Inspire them

Show them great examples of other solutions already in existence. Talk about why these work, give them details of how the solution works and what impact it has had. If you can’t find any directly relevant that’s ok, you can choose some from a different industry. The key here is to show your passion for good design to stimulate theirs too.

5) Talk about the future

Talk to them about what will happen when the project is a success. Vividly describe what a successful project looks like and talk to them about where they might get involved later down the line. If this project doesn’t excite them, but working on the bigger issue does, then they should be able to connect and see past the short term.

Don’t wait for them to ‘get passionate’, help them find it

Designers who really believe in the problem they are trying to solve are motivated to make a positive difference. It’s clear that your project needs as many of these people as you can get. Designers who are focused on security or peer recognition are driven to produce work which will not fully deliver for the people who need to use the solution. There are some clear ways to spot designers who are truly passionate, but there are also ways to stimulate the passion in those that don’t yet have it. Primarily, they need to fully understand the problem before they’ll properly engage in the solution. So don’t rely on others to find their own passion, help them understand the bigger picture to stimulate their passion.

UX Consultant Emma Peters

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