The bullshit of design rationales


We had a discussion about design rationales in our office a few days ago. We went deep — how the education system teaches us to come up with ideas and then write about the reasons why we came up with them. A sequence which should be reversed. We spoke about the bullshit that is sometimes made up to convince clients to buy an idea and the vacuous nature of some of the reasoning 'some designers' use to validate their ideas.

Enter, the bullshit of design rationales.

I’ve worked with all manner of designers in my career.

Graphic designers, product designers, strategic designers, UI and UX designers. Visual and interaction designers. Human-centred designers and social designers.

I’ve seen them present to clients many times and I’ve seen the room cringe in a glow of red-cheeked embarrassment as they post-rationalised their work.

Eyes glazed over and everyone in the room has that ‘let’s just go along with them because this is too embarrassing’ look on their face.

For some reason so many of these design rationales were made up just before the work had to be presented.

It was obvious.

Generic vacuous fluff.

Speaking to many of them I realised that this was simply the way they were taught to work. They would come up with an idea and retro-fit it into the semblance of a valid reasoning in the hope that the client would be gullible enough to buy into it.

It made me sad that many of these designers would resort to making things up when they had the ingenuity and the qualifications to do so much more.

Instead, when it came down to providing the reason behind the decisions in their work, they would resort to common tropes without ingenuity or validation.

Without intuition or foundation.

As creative leaders our role is to present the outcomes of our creative endeavour. To sometimes sell the fruits of our labour and both persuade, advise and inform our clients to go one way when they think they need to go another.

We can't resort to making this up or resorting to stuff we pull out of thin air to make our work sound more strategic, important and ultimately more valid.

In the strategy work we do in our business — we [aim to] spend the majority of time contextualising the problem. Understanding it, developing empathy for those that face it and mapping the world that surrounds it.

This I believe is the critical factor to a successful outcome.

It allows us to create a set of criteria that we come back to and measure our work against. A set of principles, policies and goals that set the trajectory for the work we're about to do.

This is true of any type of work we do — design thinking sprints, brand strategy, communications design, business or digital strategy — it sets us up to create a set of criteria that we use as the basis for critique, analysis and synthesis of ideas.

No fluff.

Nothing post-rationalised.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon said that "your brand is what they think of you when you leave the room" — so if you're making shit up, what are they thinking of you when you leave the room?