LL13 ✺ Creating context

17th September, 2019  •  4 minutes

Design tip: to judge the work, create context

While working with a collaborator last week, we were discussing opinions that had been gathered for a piece of brand design that will appear as a thumbnail on a screen near you soon:

…at this stage, asking other people for their opinion drives us away from context we’ve built together into infinite slices of each person’s momentary subjectivity.

As is the way in healthy working relationships, I knew I could be honest with my collaborator. And sure enough, he was open to understanding from my comment that while it’s great to see human reactions to design drafts, every opinion outside of our collaboration is just that: an opinion. Opinions are something which everybody is entitled to, but without prior context of intentions and histories they are momentary observations from a tiny slice in time. Indeed from Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and his Emissary”, we know that our left-brain is an abstraction of our experiences—which only the right hemisphere holds—which is hell-bent on eliciting a response it believes in order to decide and act for us, as our “emissary” in the world. This allows us to formulate explicit instrumental knowledge.

Unfortunately, judging design work requires implicit understanding because the totality of context cannot be explained in just some words. And even if you were to provide explicit problem definitions—which of course you should, and which of course would be more than a page and not just words—they won’t hold anything exact until participants have taken the time to understand the definition and share agreement, which, depending on the quality of your team and their intentions, not everyone would bother with. It is much easier to build a relationship around a common intention and prioritise multiple conversations over time to hash out a shared context.

The advice of others is the compressed wisdom of their experiences, and so can give you a great insight into how others have overcome a certain issue, or how they have changed their life. Indeed, without perspective, this advice has very little use.
James Gallagher

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for (many) opinions! It is rather that you should do the work required to be able to judge those opinions in context. Only when you’ve become good at that—and when you’ve developed an excellent relationship with a trusted specialist (such as a designer)—then your point of view becomes a competitive advantage for judging opinion and judging the work itself.

So keep in mind that judging design work is a matter of creating prior context built by the relationship between the collaborator and the designer, where your intentions and problem contexts are created through conversation, which in turn creates a mutual, implicit understanding between both people. You’ll know this is working when you are able to explain your opinion with reference to a generally agreed view of the problem definition, and then you’ll both be able to understand the weight of that opinion against the background of your scope and timeline.

I adopt their disease that troubles me, and make it my own.

Status board

  • Reading: If last week’s articles of software programming paradoxes and apocalypse were interesting, do read Michael Feathers’ Social-Technical Seeing: “People want to point to the One Magic Thing™ that would’ve made a difference. If it isn’t a different technology or practice, it is something more general: better culture, different skills, or a new process.

  • Watching and listening: I watched the first two sessions of every match in the Ashes, live (for those non-Australians, that’s 8pm through 1am). So last night, with the 5th Test finished, I was tired and hit the sack at 9pm. To get a sense of what English Cricket is, listen to the (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy!) actor Toby Jones explain what it means to him. To an outsider, it seems the most boring of games, but to those initiated, it is something sacred and meditative.

  • Music: The Byrds “Draft Morning” keeps playing in my head each morning. Not a bad way to wake up. The cacophony of trumpet fanfare with it’s Roy Lichtenstein ray guns and bombs and the ending la-la-las are quite Beatles-esque, but as ever, if you steal hard enough, it becomes yours alone.

  • Work: The writing app is now at the fun part—I get to polish the interface with transitions, iconography, and I’ve got a hold on the component models in my head, so I can start to rearrange the interface elements without worrying about impeding on the functions we’ve built.

That’s a wrap. This one took an hour. As always, your thoughts, tweets, tangents, criticism and breakbeats are welcome.


✺ The Littoral Line
An electronic letter from Callum Flack.
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