March 30, 2020

Don’t Unravel The Sweater

One way to think of types of advice:

  1. Doing more smart stuff.
  2. Being less stupid.

Today, I want to share a piece of advice given to me that falls into the second category. It’s something that I think is helpful when designers are tasked with talking about, or explaining their work.

I’ve been sharing work in a semi-formal environment for roughly 10 years. I’ve found this advice useful, and since I’m only just learning about it now, I imagine I still have a very long way to go, to become a coherent presenter.

The advice is simple, and comes with a nice visual metaphor.

It is: Don’t unravel the sweater.”

Let me explain.

Also, I’m talking about designers involved with designing interfaces, flows, software, this might not apply for industrial designers, architects, other professions.

There comes a time in the design process, at many different points, where a designer needs to show their work.

You don’t just show the final product either. You are likely presenting to an audience unfamiliar to the project, so we typically spend a decent chunk of time sharing the context, outlining the problem that we set out to solve.

Think of that as the before’, and the design as the after’.

A big part of the design process is in that before bit. We are rolling around in the mud, deep in the weeds, in the trenches. Depending on how dedicated, and how big your research budget is, maybe literally!

So it’s understandable for a designer to get excited about the problem space. They want to share what they know. What they’ve found. Big problems. New problems. Hidden problems. Reframing problems. Slicing problems up into many tiny little mini problems.

An umbrella, designed to shade someone from the hot New Mexican sun, now has solar panels, to power a fridge, that chills a drink…

Exciting for the presenter. Disorientating for the viewer.

This designer has made the grave mistake of tugging at some new threads.

By the end of the presentation, there’s just a pile of wool, and a designer saying here, look at this glorious mess!.

Don’t unravel the sweater. Stay on topic, explain the problem, show your solution. Leave the sweater alone.


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