Design and Experience

I’d like to return to Erik’s discussion for a moment. When considering the designer, his/her tools, and the material, I want to address experience (meaning the empirical knowledge, procedural knowledge, the “know-how,” etc. in observing or working with a thing or event). To use the carpenter as an example again: The carpenter’s material is wood, his/her tool is a hammer. The skilled carpenter, as Erik suggested, does not have only one hammer, he/she has ten different hammers, all variations of the original tool that have been changed (perhaps only a little) to be more effective and efficient at a particular task. The carpenter, based on his/her experience, understands that, though a single hammer can do the job, having ten different tools to call upon will help him/her use and manipulate the material on the way to a better end product (or at least a better process).

Can experience be considered a tool? Or is experience what takes place between tool and material? Or neither of these? If every designer draws on the experience of his/her previous designs in order to apply it to a new design (for better or worse), then the designer’s experience can shape the design as much as the material and the tools. Furthermore, the carpenter example kind of makes it sound like more experience, or better experience, leads to a more efficient process and a better end product. Does that mean that the best designs come from the designers with the most experience? Sometimes and sometimes not. What other factors are involved that would lead a less-experienced designer to a great design? Or an experienced designer to a bad design ? Anyone have any thoughts?

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One Response to Design and Experience

  1. kaycereed says:

    Great post/questions, Jordan.

    I guess my immediate response to your closing questions is “it depends and its complicated”. I think that design is as much related to being a musician or artist as it can be in that it takes years and a lot of practice to perfect your “craft”. While I’m sure there are times when inexperienced designers just have the perfect solution fall into their hands, I think this is a rarity (judging from my own experiences with design and the difficulty involved in moving through a project). Again back to the comparison with music, there are designers who have some innate talent to just be extremely thoughtful interaction designers as Erik Stolterman promotes. But again, I think this comes with a lot of practice/reflection/learning from previous mistakes.

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