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Better Technology for People

The Art of Designing Better Technology for Humans

Great Product Design makes technology more useful, personal and accessible to humans. shares perspectives on the practices of Product Design for making great technology.

How Design has driven digital technology age

Designing for Innovation

Behind the technology you use everyday, product designers have been shaping and pushing the industry toward more usable and accessible products that feel personal, made just for us, and that are part of user’s daily lives and routines. The methods developed in the field of design and practiced by leading designers are a fundamental factor behind the growth and spread of digital technology.

These methods of design driven innovation, things like the creative collaboration across disciplines, the open exploration, exchange and testing of new ideas, and new methods of focusing on the user, have developed incrementally since the advent of digital technology by trial and error and experimentation, improvisation, and adapting from other fields, to find what works.

Over time, a certain way of design thinking in the practice of product design has emerged that reliably is found in the origin stories of all the great products in digital technology.

What all these methods and ways of thinking behind the design of successful products have in common is that they all make digital machines more useful, usable, and accessible to humans. This effort of making making technology more useful, usable and accessible is what is meant by the term innovation.

Therefore, innovation is design driven innovation.

The ways of design for driving innovation are often hidden tacit knowledge, intuitively known, and unformalized. Most attempts to codify these practices, often in the form of step by step procedures, fail to capture what's essential in great product design. At worst, these attempts of codifying the design process misled many designers to do design in a prescriptive step by step approach by rote, leading to stalled or failed careers, poor products, and worst of all, widespread misperceptions of what the role of design should be in not only the technology industry as a whole, but even by designer's themselves.

Despite these obstacles, design has produced (design produces) many of the most important innovations in technology.

What can be said about how to do design then?

Detailed how to's and step-by-step procedures and design process don't reveal what really matters in design. But there are themes that have emerged in how design is done and where design has converged where we can say some some intelligent things about.

These are the themes I will share below.

How to think about design

Designing for Innovation

What is design?

Design is planning and imagining what could be. About human purposes. It is the The usage of human creativity to envision and plan ways to meet human needs with technology. And crucially, Design isn’t the process or methods for doing design, its fundamentally about a way of thinking ,ideas, ingenuity, creativity, hypothesis. And Product Designs apply this abilities to digital technology, apps, devices, and software.

Design is innovation

Innovation happens when an existing technology is improved for human purposes. This is why Design is a driver for innovation when it’s practiced as a method to make machines more useful, useable and accessible to humans.

A way of thinking

Good design is really a way, and a product, of thinking. But the really value of design comes from the mind of the designer. Without good ideas, without good methods of working through problems and solving them, there is no good design. It is easily confused with making pretty mockups, nice drawing, slick prototypes. But these are not teh essence of product design, this is design craft.

Design is thinking processes happening when new ideas are created, the imagining, creativity, ideas behind the planning of machines for human purposes. This is design thinking.

Good design, the essence of it, the critical important part, is the ideas and the thinking behind the design.  It’s the design thinking that matters.

It’s about ideas, imagination and vision

Many people think design is drawing. Or making beautiful mocks in Figma. Or building a slick prototype of a new interaction. But good design is really the *Ideas *****behind the choices and decisions designer. The ideas in the mind that get translated into a visual artifact is what makes the difference. Ideas means Vision, what vision does a designer have for solving a problem? Ideas means Imagination. Being able to imagine the right problems, people, technology, and how they all work together, and imagine new possibilities for how to make that better, is imagination. Its ideas. You could have the best Figma skills or prototyping skills, but unless you have good ideas, those skills won’t ladder up to great products.

Design craft

Design craft is the techniques and methods we commonly associate to the work of designers: lo and hi fidelity visual design techniques, making mockups, creating visualizations in Figma, making prototypes, or typography. Many great designers have great design craft. But many have poor design craft, and yet have designed some of the best products we know. Just because someone is the best ever at making amazing looking mocks, they might still make shitty product. Product Design and design craft are different but related.

Design is a Problem solving method

Good design is about problem solving. This means identifying worthy problems and opportunities centered on the needs of people. It’s easy to find convenient or obvious things to work on, but good design looks beyond the obvious things that look important but aren’t to find what is important and matter. This also means it is more than making things look pretty– it’s about how things work and how they do what they do.

Creativity applied to technology

Fundamentally, if we could distill down to the essence of what good design is, it is human creativity applied toward the improvement of humans through technology.

Product designers use creative ingenuity to create plans for how technology can be made better, more useful and accessible, to people. It is human creativity applied toward the ends of improving machines always toward optimizing those improvements for the goals of its users.

It’s about human purposes

It’s easy to focus on the next feature, It’s very easy to focus on the surface of things, But we design things for people, and they have to be at the center, Designers think in terms of the people using their designs. The orient to humans. They try to see other points of view. Your are solving for people. You Think about the User Experience. They think about the end to end experience, or they think about the user experience, they consider the journey of people, the human experience, from before a product to beginning middle end and also after to arrive at better solutions.

Good design is always about answering one question repeatedly and consistently: how might we realize human purposes and goals with the technology we make? The reason for technology is to meet the purposes of humans, and so good design aims to meet those goals.

Principle driven

Principles are reasons why we do one thing or another. How we make better choices. Help guide our design toward what really matters, and act as compass. It aligns teams, it grounds decisions. Designers should be able to think through the whys of decisions of choices, and eventually form reasons and guiding heuristics and principles.

Focused on how it works, not how it looks

This doesn’t mean design doesn’t work on how it looks, but it’s not the focus. This is in stark and direct opposition to how many people see the role product design as focused on how things look, and less on the how it will work. This is a hold over from past connotation of design, and the history of design work, but as I’ve said elsewhere, design that is innovation driven and great products is a different sort of design

Unconventional, Defy convention in order to innovate

Unconventional, by definition, since innovation is always unconventional, embrace the unconventional. Innovation is what is new and better, and novel. this means you must break away from convention to do it.

Creative collaboration

Good design happens with teams working closely together toward a common goal. Everyone on a solid product team is part of the design process and contribute to design. Good designers are open minded idea gatherers, and see their team mates as one of the richest sources of good ideas. For example, good product is the result of good ideas that meet real user needs, and these ideas, the best ones, develop over discussion between people design and making the product, around whiteboard, group brainstorms, a continuous cycle of presenting design ideas in every stage of refinement from a fleeting thought to a crisp prototyped concept, getting feedback, and iterating on that feedback. Design is collaborative since it needs to consider the context that matters for any given problem, and this context is learned by understanding the engineering, the product strategy, the business context, and users. Alignment.

Communicating ideas

A big part of the process behind great design is the communication of ideas. Imagining great solutions is not enough. Ideas need to be presented in a form a product team can understand, evaluate and add their own ideas and feedback to. There are many ways to communicate ideas (design craft) including lo fidelity ways like whiteboard drawings to high fidelity pixel perfect mocks, from a quickly sketched user flow on a post it note, to a slick slide presentation illustrating an entire user journey for a design, or an interactive prototype that vividly and realistically demonstrates the idea. Written ideas matter too. These visualization and prototyping techniques I call design craft. Alignment.

Reality driven

Design should drive toward reality, and away from wishful think and optimistic hopes. It’s interested in truth. One of the most Critical part of the design process is the validation and testing of ideas to find a more accurate answer to the question: is this a good hypothesis or not. So design is constantly creating what are essentially hypothesis about how to solve a problem, and then creates experiments to find out the truth through prototyping the concept, creating a mockup, a model, even a sketch, and getting feedback from users to validate it. This process can become quite sophisticated, with A/B experiments pitting one design against another with real users in the real product and comparing the results. But what matters here is design is validated through some form of testing.

Thinking for impact

Designer think about how to have more impact. It measure and tracks progress against goals, understand the big pictures, aligns efforts around critical business objectives, measures and optimizes for measurable user impact, inluences product strategy, looks for and finds new opportuniites to capitalize on, finds ways to be more efficient and focus on what matters the most. Think about the long term and not just the short term. But impact means what impact does my decisions on have on users, environment, health society etc… Finds value. Finds unemt needs. Finds way to improve workflows. Emobides leadership. Thinks strategically. Adopts new higher return ways of thinking.

Unpacking the Modern Design Process

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

–attributed to multiple sources

When I first started UX design, having a well defined and well articulated design process was critical if you expected to get a good job. Every interviewer's first question was “what is your design process.”

Designers got wind of this question, and eventually every competent designer, even if they didn't actually follow it, could recite a basic process from memory.

A codified design process usually is some variation of the following:

  1. Discover: wherein you gather requirements, understand constraints & scope, define goals.
  2. Research: wherein you talk to people such as users, potential users or subject matter experts.
  3. Iterate & Ideation, wherein you start designing solutions, starting with high level lo fidelity and increasing in detail and fidelity as you go
  4. Test and Validate, wherein you confront your design hypothesis with the raw truth of user feedback
  5. Implement, wherein you finalize your validated designs and hand them off to engineering to implement
  6. Launch & Refine, wherein you launch, measure the results, and refine the design based on  data and user feedback

I also had my own process talking points memorized and at the ready at all times. I even had many variations of it, tailored to meet different needs and contexts.

So when I would interview designers, I would naturally ask them, “what’s your process.” Most good designers had a ready answer.

After some time, people’s claimed design process started to converge on a rather well defined pattern, and soon, this question about process, and what people said about it, failed to give good insight into the quality of a designer and how they think and work, because many were just memorizing the correct expected thing to say about process.

A popular design process

Designers are familiar with a drawing that’s something like this.

Screen Shot 2022-03-21 at 1.39.20 AM.png

This scribble drawing highlights a familiar fact: the design process we “say” we follow is often not like the process we “actually” follow.

What can we say then about process that would help us be better designers?

Two models of process

Most articulated descriptions of design process are simplified models, and most models of the design process rely on the analogy of the map, in particular, a map with a route or a set of directions. These process as a map kinds of models imply there are steps you follow to design something, a series of steps in phases and stages. [eg, double diamond or other, can insert example here].

However, whenever you create product and do innovation, the territory you enter, the terrain, is new and unknown, because innovation is always new territory, and having a map with directions, if you follow it, means you will get lost since the terrain has changed since the map was made. It would be like using a map to get around a terrain that changes constantly every hour. In a world where stuff changes constantly, what you need is not a map, but a different navigation strategy.

Despite a map being useless in the wrong territory, there is a way to navigate design process when venturing to the untravelled places where innovation lies.

One is to have a set of guiding principles, or heuristics and goal, for how to deal with new terrain. These principles are like a compass, they give you a general direction to head toward, instead a sequence of steps. I call this "process as compass".

Another strategy is to have a coherent mental model of a standard process that is goal based instead of sequence or activity Based. I will share both approaches, starting with principles.

Process as Guiding Principles, or the "process as compass" approach

Since the traditional process as map approach doesn’t work in practice, and instead actual process is non linear and doesn’t follow a repeatable sequence, an alternative way to think about process is as compass. Process as compass approach is more about following a general heading or direction rather than following a fixed path or a pre planned path. Here you use principles to guide you toward good design. I think everyone will have their own ideal principles, and they should think about and develop them according to the type of products you work on.

There is no definitive set of principles for guiding the design process. Despite this, there are common themes that recur frequently across design process in innovative digital technology. To give you an idea of what these kind of principles might look like, here I share some of the principles I've seen used by some of the best designers I've gotten to work and learn from and that I have used in my own work.

Travel light

Ideally, process should be Minimal and feel lightweight, allowing you to move fast and freely through ideas. Even though process may be carefully considered and planned by necessity at times, it should should still feel lightweight and speedy. I also find some non designer fear too much process and worry about it slowing things down. So keeping it light helps team buy in. It optimizes for action, for getting ideas out to validate them, uses the most efficient methods for the given question. it Asks is there a faster way to do this? to get to a valid solution? Plan lightly. Goals are often unknown when a design project begins, and the requirements and constraints continue to change.

Follow the user

I think the role of design is a responsibility to the people that use the stuff we make. How can we serve people? And how can we make their lives better with our products? That’s our yard stick. Your primary compass bearing to follow is the Human Experience. You start your journey of design with user, you incorporate the user throughout your process, and you end with the user.

Humanize the machines

A key principle that drives how I think about design is my view about what Innovation means in technology.

Innovation in technology is a function of how accessible, useful, and usable technology is for humans, and the extent to which a machine is made relevant for the purposes of its users, and the extent to which those machines extend and expand the capabilities of people, is the degree of that technology’s innovation.

I call this perspective human-centered innovation. I’m an innovation humanist. To practice this in your design process, you emphasize ways to make human-centered innovation happen like including user research, testing, validation, human centric heuristics and design principles, and the centering of decisions, priorities and framing of problems around the needs of people.

Fundamentals over surfaces

Another point of emphasis is what I call “fundamentals over surfaces.” This means, perhaps counterintuitively to some, that the less obvious more fundamental aspects of a design, not the surfaces that are most visible, are where the biggest opportunities for making human-centered innovation are found.

Creative vs Procedural Problem Solving

Human creativity is the most powerful tool the known universe has ever produced. It is also cognitively expensive. For this reason, look to spend your creative currency on difficult, complex, or ambiguous problem solving because these kinds of problems can only be solved with creativity. Problems that are simpler can be solved using procedures. For example, to design a non-novel feature or user interface component, use an existing design pattern or component from a library. Don't waste your creativity on solving these kinds of problems by overthinking it or figuring it out from scratch. Innovative work is the kind that demands creativity in problem solving as opposed to procedural problem solving. Automate procedural problem solving and look instead for creative opportunities.

Context before pixels

In the early parts of my design process, I put a high emphasis on understanding, alignment and prioritization. I call this principle “context before pixels”. This is in contrast to jumping straight into making pretty visuals at the start of a project. Instead of designing details early on and missing out on the biggest opportunities, we can focus on understanding the context of the problem since designing for context is the only way to have real impact since product that meets the user's actual context is the basis of good end user experience.

How to think about early iteration cycles

For example, early in an iteration cycle I like to encourage, with the team, users and myself, and open-ended exploration, generation and consideration of high-level unconventional impractical imperfect unrealistic unvarnished unrefined poorly-planned spontaneous impulsive foolish crazy provocative surprising adventurous divergent open-ended ideas and creativity.

From these ideas come the seeds we develop, test and validate with users and the team until we have a valid design solution.

One of the great things about iterative design is how you can use it to solve more complex problems than we might otherwise try, and how it can help us make more user-centered products.

In iterative design, complex problems are made more tractable by breaking them down into smaller component parts that are then iteratively designed in steps.

If you get a good grasp on the nature of the problem and its limits, scope, constraints & requirements, you can also form a good idea of what order to design those parts so you can solve the parts that are most salient and consequential to the end user experience first.^  This way, instead of getting bogged down with extraneous details early on in a design process, we can incrementally build up those design details over time as the design direction becomes increasingly validated and confirmed.

Instead of designing details early on and missing out on the biggest opportunities, we can focus on the big fundamental questions that have the most impact because they are more influential to the end user experience.

Prioritize the strategic

Strategic work such as high level product objectives, product vision, success targets, business strategy, go-to-market strategy, product-market fit and more are inextricably, inseparably, unequivocally tied to the user experience, and it is therefore a requirement, not a nice-to-have, to have great team cooperation at these levels.

Visualize your ideas

Visualizing ideas in a physical form through models, prototypes, sketches, and mockups in the fastest, lowest fidelity method appropriate, allows us to see ideas from new perspectives and leads to new ideas. Making ideas visual is a fast and powerful way to evaluate our concepts, and make changes to improve them. It forces us to confront our ideas and see them in a more realistic manner.


embraces improvisation, things change, plans change, so process is unplanned, or is lightly planned, and you can improvise as you go, it ok.

Stay Flexible

Being flexible with your process, and adapting to the situation is important for various reasons due to the nature of building technology. Good Process is adaptive and reactive to the reality of the situation, and doesn’t arbitrarily need to stick to a preplanned map.

Follow the uncertainty

By nature, we avoid uncertainty. It's an inbuilt safety feature, helping us to avoid danger. We try different ways to keep reduce uncertainty like planning or designing until perfection, but we can easily over do it, and this slows design enough that it makes innovation impossible. Uncertainty, ambiguity, unknowns, and changing conditions is the norm in creating product. Process must should welcome this reality instead of avoiding it. Constant change means uncertainty, despite this, Encourage change. Change is good for creativity if it is embraced because change is a potent source of new ideas. So instead of trying to forcibly sticking to a pre planned process, accept that at anytime its appropriate to alter the plans you set for design you should do so and communicate why to your team. Goals are often unclear and dimly defined when a design project begins, and the requirements and constraints continue to change. A good design process is considerate of this. Mindful of it.

Make collaboration fundamental to your process

Designing technology is a collaboration between designers and the other people on the product team, and good technology is an output of tight cooperation across the team. Aim to be Transparent and Inclusive. Good design process is transparent to the team, and include them in the process by making decisions planning together. Doing design collaborative with your team has the effect of getting buy-in to your design approach. Collaborative design Has team buy-in. Collaboration with product, business and engineering to coordinate priorities so that design can be designed and delivered and launched in the right order.

Non-linear, non sequential, highly parallel

Innovation focused Design practice is divergent, and this is incompatible with fixed process which is more linear. Process is cyclical, iterative, previous steps are often revisited, refined, optimized, reconsidered, and re-prioritized.

Broad to narrow

Start with High-level questions, and save details for later. it’s tempting to want to make things perfect too early because designers are often perfectionists and detail oriented, and care about being perceived well, but get used to, and get your team comfortable with early ideas looking bad intentionally in order to optimize for volume early one and get to the best idea. You can get more detailed as you go. Starts rough and fast, gets tight and narrow over time. Another common framing for this concept is the popular diverge converge concept.


Process is thought of as goals and methods. You have a goal, and you select the best, efficient method to do it from your design craft palette of methods. This means you should revisit and continually clarify what are your goals, for example to, understand the user better, clarify the problem, refine the design, generate ideas, validate, etc.


Real process is open to trying stuff to see what works

Look for strategic opportunities

Opportunity driven, so I look and think about strategy, it’s also leverage, and why it’s a multi dimensional holistic approach that requires collaboration. Impact

Designing for Innovation: Modern Process & Practice

Design is creativity applied to problem solving for people and technology. And great product design is design that makes machines more useful usable and accessible to humans. When this happens we call it innovation. Making technology more useful useable and accessible is what we mean by innovation in technology.

Designing technology for human purposes is human-centered innovation, and it is design-driven innovation. In fact, it is becoming more and more clear that design is a key source of innovation, and perhaps is the fundamental essence of how innovation happens.

It is for this reason that a design process, and a model for the design process, should reflect the way that this sort of innovation happens. It should accurately depict what is most essential in the innovation centered design process, the process that results in products people love.

If the goal is to make products people love and to create new innovation in technology, and this happens by making technology more useful useable and accessible to people, then we have a clear general form of a problem to be solved before us.

This problem to be solved is where a good design process begins.

Design-driven innovation always starts with a problem, and idea, or a question about how to make technology better for people.

The problem is the beginning of the design process, and everything that goes along with problems at the beginning, like understanding it, clarifying, framing etc…

With a clear problem, the creative process picks up, with a goal at developing a valid solution. Here the goal is to get to a valid solution. A solution is the idea, the concept, the plan, for how to solve the problem. To be clear, a valid solution to a design problem IS NOT mockups. Mockups might be used to communicate the valid solution, but the pixel perfect mocks eng needs are design execution, the final phase.

From this framing a simple model of the design process follows this form:

The Problem solving design process

  1. Problem
  2. Ideation / Getting to valid solution
  3. Execution
  4. Another way to word this

Thumbnail sketch of my process

  1. Clarify the problem
  2. Get to a valid solution
  3. Execute the solution

Note that this model is not a series of steps. It doesn’t say anything about how to exactly do this. It’s describing the purposes of the design process, the end goals of each key phase.

All design process for creating products people love, any design driven innovation, builds on this simple paradigm. Any model of the design process that works can be mapped to these 3 purposes and does these three things well.

Using this framework for thinking about the design process, we can use real examples to see how they fit or follow this pattern.

I remember my first project at Google. it was a relatively small project, it was even called a starter project. What was my design process for that? Here i will talk about process as steps, not as goals, and then show how those steps map to the goals.

In contrast to a purpose centered design process model, we can get a more task oriented look at the design process with the following framing:

  1. Product strategy
  2. Design planning & strategy
  3. Design ideation
  4. Design execution

This model can be expanded to reveal in more detail how it is done. here is the steps i followed on a real project.

  1. note this timeline is retrospectively look at the actual process I followed, in other words, at the start it was not at all clear ths is the path we would take..