The “Brute Force” School of Design

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I was reading Digiday’s piece on Work & Co, the digital agency started by a roster of mostly former Huge execs, and how in 2 years their 100-person 3-city shop has a 100% employee retention rate. Pretty bad-ass.

Somewhere down the rabbit hole of looking at their exceptional work, I stumbled upon 99U’s interview with co-founder and design partner Joe Stewart, who remains to be one of the people I look up to in digital design.

It resonated with me tons, especially this part:

What advice would you have for a new digital product designer? #

The unfortunate answer is that it’s just really hard. I think it is one of the hardest aspects of digital design for sure. It’s just hours and sweat. There’s no magic answer. We call our design process “brute force.” We just do a hundred versions of everything. We are the first generation of people to be doing digital design, so there are no masters yet. No one actually knows what they are doing and anyone claiming to be an expert is either ill-informed or full of shit. Everyone is making it up as they go along.

However I do think there are core, fundamental values if you really want to get into this. Learn your grids; they are everything. It is the language of what we do. The second thing is type. You can’t teach someone typography, because it takes like ten years to get decent with it. And the third thing is prototyping. Focusing on those three things is important, but honestly, the only way to get ahead is if you are working harder than the guy next to you.

It gave me comfort, repose, but most of all, excitement.

Sure, digital product design feels like it’s existed forever because digital technology has permeated our lives more than ever. Yes we’ve developed tons of new thinking and frameworks and paradigms about how things should or ought to be done. But what motivates me is knowing that we truly are just at the beginning.

There’s more things to do, more possibilities to explore, and more ideas to experiment with. And yes, one can never have enough grid, type, and prototyping chops, especially as new devices and mediums enter the mainstream.

And this is one of the things that inspire me most about product design: there’s always more. And with that in mind, the only way to get better is not (just) by playing with theory, but by “brute force” until quality comes out at the end.

Bonus: Work & Co’s responsive design for Virgin America

 
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