In response to an excellent article by Sharon Lee at ALA, “Human-to-Human Design“, I made comments. I thought it would make a good blog post too. I’m still fleshing these thoughts out. So, any feedback would be helpful.

As a user experience designer to some interesting and large projects, I’ve had to advocate the persons on “the other side of the screen” numerous times. Much of the time to the humbling response of something along the lines of “well, because of the business goals…” [insert objection here].

It seems we ‚Äì as the craftspeople in this industry ‚Äì are in the position to take this type of stand for the humans who must use our clients’ [insert service here.]

In fact, this weekend, I’ve started a process in myself to stoke some emotionality for the “user” and move away from two heavily used terms that I think are actually hindering us from totally empathizing with our audience and creating the best experiences imaginable.

First, the word, “user.” This is discussed around on various platforms and not really new, but I want to make a push to re-ignite this notion. From the cold, steely, technical aspect, they are “users,” but at the end of the day, they’re people, other humans, just like you and just like me.

The second word we should move away from – and this will probably bother some because it is so the vogue thing – is “design.” This includes all derivatives such as “designing” or “designers.” Primarily for the same reason as the above. If you do a search at for the word “design” you’ll find cold terminology like, “model” “map” “configuration,” “engineering,” etc. Likewise, do a search for the term, “craft.” In contrast, you’ll find warmer words like, “skillful” “art” “ingenuity” “workmanship.”

And sure enough, someone had a problem with it.

Perhaps I wasn’t being clear. This notion stems from a process through which I’m undergoing personally. I’m just beginning to articulate what has come to me and it is undoubtedly fuzzy at this point, but it only becomes more clear with each step of exploration.

Over a decade ago, I sought to understand what my place was going to be in this world and I identified myself as “designer.” I studied design. I labeled myself as designer and revered myself as such.

Over the years, I’ve realized the term is misused, overused, and abused. A hobbyist can pick up a book, learn a little something and go forth, create, build, and declare their design. And no one can argue that it isn’t design.

Ah, but craft. “Craft” as it relates to “design” is the beauty side of the same coin. As indicated, design has intention and this may very well be true, but it is the word “craft” that can denote so much more. And so, I would suggest that where design has intention, craft has intuition; designers are industrious, craftsmen (and women) flow.

In my college design courses, the literature taught us that there was function and there was aesthetic. I have found that most people polarize and tend to focus on one or the other in their post-academia careers.

Throughout my career, my position has at countless times been to mitigate in the chasm between the technically proficient and the artistically profound. Perhaps it is design that is the middle where the two meet. Moderately simple mathematics will show us that starting with zero then going in two opposing directions, there is infinity in both directions. Artistry and Industry, running infinitely deep in their respective directions.

So, for me, I need some distinction for this discipline of “creating an experience.” Usability, in its purist sense, is virtually devoid of all aesthetics. Just as pure artistic expression of emotion is is of no mainstream use.

I am by no means suggesting that “design” should go away. Perhaps I’m suggesting that as human factors, usability, ergonomics, etc. have become such cornerstones to our practice of design, we need see the other side of the coin. And that is where we find craft.

If you’re interested, I’ve started a new group at as a starting point to gather some of these thoughts together. I’d love to hear from folks on their opinions on this matter:

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Hi Chris,

    First of all, let me apologize for getting snippy; I could blame it on the fact that I hadn’t had any coffee yet or I could just be honest and say sometimes I say bitchy things that I don’t really mean :)

    What pushed my buttons specifically was the idea that design was “cold” or somehow disconnected from emotional experiences, which I think is just plain wrong. I think design gets a bad rap in that department. I definitely think that designers in many industries, not just ours, tend to forget the extreme importance that emotional connections and emotional accessibility plays in a successful user experience, but I think that’s the fault of the people filling these roles, not the fault of design as a discipline itself.

    Like I said before, I really think that design is about loving something–I think that’s what sits at the heart of a good user experience. And you don’t inspire love in a user unless they’re completely involved in the experience–the way it feels, looks, handles, works, etc. I do not think design is merely about functionality. Design is intentional and considered, and those “masculine” qualities are important, but so too are the yin qualities, those of aesthetic and intuition.

    As I wrote in a recent post on my blog, design considers many relationships: history, economics, tradition, ergonomics, etc. All of the symbols that touch upon or draw from these things have meaning for us, and those symbols and meanings evoke reactions from us, good or bad. Design can’t help but be essentially emotional, even if that emotion is one of apathy.

    As a designer, I take what I do seriously, and I do take it personally when someone says that what I do isn’t design or shouldn’t be considered design. There are so many elements that go into what I do that I think to call it a “craft” misses the point. Anything can be well-crafted without being well designed. Design is deliberate and fills a recognized need. Craft doesn’t necessarily fill those criteria, and that’s why the idea bothers me so.

  • Amber-
    Please don’t apologize. Your thoughts and expressions have helped me considerably flesh out my processing. I’m actually grateful for your responses.

    I’m passionate about design. Always have been, always will be. However, I’ve notice some ambiguity recently. The term is thrown around a lot and I think it’s been overly used and abused. In an effort to retain what design really means ‚Äì as you have described even – I posed a thought we should perhaps consider it more deeply.

    Perhaps it’s only a personal preference or understanding maybe, but in thinking about the word “craft” I see something more significant than design. To fashion something, or craft it, it just feels that there is more… care in the process. I imagine a carver with a piece of wood, thoughtfully forming their feelings, their emotions into the piece… almost like a painter and the canvas. The relationship between creator and creation… it’s beautiful.

    And that’s what I think I’m getting at. I’m looking at the creation of the experience as an art form as opposed to a calculated intention. Or just a calculated intention.

    You’re right. Design does encompass so much, but that’s just it. If we continue to look at the the tools and not the process of the trade, we miss the talent. I’m not saying that you are, but there are folks who have an understanding of only the tools and can use them very well to design, but they lack something in their final execution. See, I guess what I’m getting at is that there is so much focus on design and… You know what it is? It’s the push to get it done in an industrious manner. Executives hollar: “Just bang it out.” “Make it happen.” These are the words we hear to complete our designs… and I’m trying to push back on that. Giving us ‚Äì the craftspeople ‚Äì more time to complete our hearts drive and passion. Does that make sense?

    Mind you, I’m working through this as we go through this discussion. It’s not calculated in any form, it’s just flowing. So, yeah. What I’m trying to do is make our process more organic. Maybe it’s impossible because our trade is digital, manufactured at the very core, but I somehow don’t believe that. We’re the organic element. We’re the humans.

    And really, I’m trying to push back on business you see? Not because they’re evil or whatever, because I want them to think about their end-user, their customers as something more and I want them to understand the process to connect with them is more than a calculated design process. A degree of care and concern in going above intentions. Besides, the road to perdition is paved with good intention.

    So, “craft,” to me, as a word, has greater connotation and potential impact to show process, care, love, shaping, carving, and… polishing. And that’s what I want to see in our as a goal for the practitioners in our industry: A polishing, a luster, time taken out to put more care into our finished products not just the intention to do so.

  • amber says:

    Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. I see what you’re driving at. It isn’t so much that you want to “get away from design” so much as that you want to refocus our efforts on an emotional level.

    I grok that. In fact, I just wrote a paper on it from the POV of writing and the web.

    I’ve been known to tell my manager, “Babies don’t pop out of the womb moments after conception, you know. They need time to gestate.” He sees me taking walks, or staring blankly at the computer screen, or thumbing through magazines and he thinks I”m wasting time when I’m actually working. I’m thinking how the the pieces will work together, looking for inspiration that will convey just the right tone to the user, thinking of the right colors that will provoke the right emotion and the correct state of mind.

    The thing is, we’re responsible for building relationships, and those relationships don’t happen overnight. They take time to develop. And our work has to be crafted, to use your term, in a way that is meaningful and appealing for the user. Yes, it has to work well. Yes, he has to be able to get his information from out websites. But his experience is not merely cerebral. If it were, we’d all be out of a job. We could just throw some black words on a white screen and call it a day. The user’s experience, in fact, isn’t even *primarily* cerebral–it’s emotional, spiritual, subconscious. My ability to fully engage with your website depends entirely on how my whole being is involved. You have more than my mind to consider, but my heart, soul, and inner child as well.

    You might be amused to know that a few months ago I started writing a paper on design as craft as opposed to art. (If i ever finish it, would you be interested in reviewing it?) So it isn’t that I disagree with your idea about craftwork. It’s more that I’m adamant about design encompassing craft, and not being distinct from it. But now that I see what you’re really getting at, it’s probably just paradigmatic disagreement that isn’t ultimately of much import.

    I’ve certainly enjoyed this discussion!

  • Awesome. I would definitely be interested in reading it. I would love to get some more discussion moving about this notion too.

    It really isn’t just discourse for the sake of discourse and mindless ramble. I know there is a direction and I know where I’m headed, but it’s the path that gets me there which is the unknown. There is a business-end to the propagation of this thought.

    I’m thinking with my clients’ best interest in mind. Moving away from the notion “craft” for a moment, focus on the {human} aspect. The notion here is to embrace the fact we are human. Fallible. Fragile. Finite. There is only so much we’re capable of on our own. So, in my
    position with my clients, I help them see outside the four walls of their corporations and advocate for the user, {human}. Insert any term you like in the braces, but embrace them nonetheless.

    You bring up an excellent point. Two actually. The experience we create for our visitors is with the hope to build a relationship. Building a relationship does take time and so crafting our communications must be handle with care, but also be ready to adapt to change. Another good word for {humans}: Fickle. On that emotional side, we shift and change. Our designs have to accommodate for that waxing and waning.

    The other point you make – the experience is not merely cerebral, there’s an emotionality and spirituality. Being focused on others helps us to think of the experience as not of our own. Be concerned of their well-being; wary of their frustrations, do not cause them to stumble.

    Lazy creation can lead to deficits in positive experience. If our applications are “rude” we have shortsightedly not put the others’ needs before our own. Does that make sense? If you shortcut your design because of selfish needs, there should be a compensation of sorts to the {human}.

    I think we were saying the same thing: Craft is a component to design. My point is that I think there is generally too much focus on the science of experience design and we should look at the craft.

    I look forward to that paper you were writing and hopefully more discussion on this. I’d like to encourage you to join the group at ma.gnolia. I need help in directing this focus and that’s kinda the starting point.