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Maybe your life experience influences your ability as a designer.

This post was first published as part of my weekly newsletter on Substack.


In the TEDx talk, How Bad Design Feeds The Ego And Kills Intuition by Pratyush Pillai, Pratyush advocates for designers to have a beginner’s or childlike mindset while observing the user in order to understand problems. He goes on to say that the designer must be free from all the baggage that they may have because of their lived experience. I couldn’t bring myself to agree with this and this thought prompted me to a larger question at hand. Imagine that you’re observing someone performing an action. Your observations would probably look like this:

Peak happiness and then subsequent pain of someone performing a particular option. The pain here refers to the ‘pain point’.

In order for you to differentiate between the peak and pain, you have to feel both those emotions yourself in order to understand the pain and peak for another person. Since there exists no objective metric to compare it against (such as a pain scoreboard), the only choice you have is to compare it against your own database; or empathise, which is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Now, I’d like to dive deeper into this. This comparison with your own database also dictates how much pain you assume this person’s pain to be.

In other words, if you’ve felt intense peaks and pains, you have a larger database to compare against. On the other hand, let’s assume person X has had a fairly easier life, their database may fall short in understanding the intensity of the observed person’s pain. Therefore, person X may not be able to fully empathise with the observed person.

While I believe that creativity is a skill that can be fostered, I think I somewhat disagree with the notion that everyone can become a designer. I think the life you’ve led as a human being greatly affects your sensitivity as a designer as well. Have you spent your time being engrossed in people, understanding their sensibilities, abilities and frailties? The larger point to consider is whether you’ve spent enough time with yourself and experienced your humanity enough in order to start understanding someone else’s.


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