‘A hunch’, ‘going with your gut’, ‘acting on impulse’, ‘trust your instinct’. These are all phrases we use to describe the same feeling that we all experience everyday. But how does it apply to a designer and how can it be used to arrive at a solution quicker?
I’ve long held the view that an experienced designer doesn’t need an overload of information to solve a problem. What I discovered when doing some research recently, is that there is a name for this synthesising process we do everyday. Its called ‘Thin-slicing’.
In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell claims that decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as a decision made cautiously and deliberately. What we are actually doing is what Gladwell calls ‘thin-slicing’. When we leap to a decision or have a hunch our unconscious is sifting through the situation in front of us looking for a pattern, throwing out the irrelevant information and zeroing in on what really matters. He argues that our unconscious mind is so good at this that it often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and protracted ways of thinking. I’ve never been much of a procrastinator so you could imagine my delight when I read this. It also validated what I had long suspected. When you think about it, this is little like the principle of chaos theory, where the initial conditions can have a profound impact on the eventual outcome.
There seem to be expectations in the marketplace that design consultants have to go through extensive research, analysis and consultation before arriving at a solution, or perhaps to justify our fees. This is all well and good and is often necessary too ensure all the bases have been covered. Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong believer in research and for complex problems it is absolutely essential. In fact there is a whole lot of people in agencies and design studios who make a good living doing just that. But do you want me to let you in on a little secret? (or perhaps not so?) Research is often used to post rationalise what we already know or suspect to be true.
One thing I have noticed is that the longer I work in our industry and gather more experience, the more accurate my intuition becomes. Who amongst you hasn’t sat in a design briefing and within minutes have designed in our heads exactly what you were going to do. That’s because we get better at picking up subliminal signals the longer we practice. Picking up these signals is precisely the reason why I believe it is critical that the designer who has been charged with solving the problem be present at the initial client briefing. Make sure this happens! You can’t expect to pick up the subtleties of the problem from a typed brief delivered by your account service manager. Make sure the designer spends ‘face time’ with your client; gets to know them and how they think; understands both their likes and dislikes, and really get’s inside their heads. If you do this, I can guarantee you will get a far better result that is more closely aligned with your client’s expectations.
But I ask, shouldn’t we place more value on and be more trusting of what we have learnt through years of experience working in the business of design and confidently stand behind this? Isn’t it precisely this experience that informs the birth of our ideas? After all aren’t clients paying for the expertise we have acquired? I say believe in yourself and don’t underestimate the value of your gut feelings no matter how quickly the ideas come. It’s closer to the truth than you suspect.
Thumbnail image: Andrew J. Young, from The Noun Project.