Models vs end result

While packing for a move, I found that I couldn’t keep track of all the things — whether we had packed certain items, whether they were essential for our first trip up, etc. I ended up creating an airtable to keep track of all the things and statuses:

After a couple of days, I realized I was getting very attached to finalizing and completing this ‘model’ of things to be packed rather than on the end result — being packed. Not that the packing wasn’t getting done; I was just very emotionally invested in my table.

Models in UX design

At work, I’ve noticed that I get similarly attached to ‘models’ and artifacts, to site maps, user journeys, user flows, design documentation and specs, etc.

I personally believe these models and artifacts provide much-needed order to a project and communicate important details to developers and business. And when my role did not include other parts of the design process like visual design, it made sense to spend a lot of time in polishing these artifacts. But in my current role, where the boundaries between UX/UI are more fluid, and where a single designer takes a project from beginning to end, I sometimes would take a step back and feel unsure about the ratio of time I spent working on models versus thinking about the end product’s details, like mobile responsiveness.

Loose takeaways

Still grappling with these, but initial takeaways:

The fact that I gravitate towards models and systems rather than pixel details is probably a cue I should listen to. I still feel like I’m at a stage in my career where every facet of design is an area to cultivate, but I could see that in a couple of years, I will want to be spending my time in certain areas and not others.

The answer isn’t to NOT create models; just to recognize they are representations and not the real thing. Taking from Socrates’ Allegory of the Cave:

The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality, but are not accurate representations of the real world…the prisoner who is freed from the cave comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are actually not reality at all.

As an early-mid career designer of Asian descent, I see my inclination to gravitate toward attaining concrete skills. Like, ‘If I know how to do Y and Z, I’ll be where I want to be as a designer’. And a lot of these things are activities, skills, artifacts.

img from A matrix to help you self-evaluate on 18 different skills a UX designer needs

Another model of design work is more messy — design not being about a set of measurable and concrete steps and artifacts, but being a super messy, detoured, and creative process that ends up at a destination.

img from Design isn’t just messy at research

User Experience Designer