This is a repost from my old portfolio. I originally wrote this article in January 2016


Today, I attended a presentation by Travis Lowdermilk of Microsoft that was put on by UW's HCDE graduate student association. The presentation itself was about the hypothesis driven design - specifically the progressive hypothesis model that's gaining popularity within Microsoft. Generally speaking, this model is a reaction to an older method of product development that was an iterative process with two primary modes: customer research and product development.

Under the progressive hypothesis model, customer research is split into customer research and problem research, and product development is split into concept development and feature development. In each of these four steps, the team develops a declarative hypothesis based on their best information, and this hypothesis is used to guide the research and development process.

The key question to ask during this process is: Who does your idea solve a problem for?

Anyways, enough about the progressive hypothesis model. I'm sure that there's information online for anyone who's interested.

This post is really about another concept that Travis discussed today, one that really resonated with me: what does it mean to be a designer?

Travis described himself as a "blue-collar" designer, saying that he "just wants to fix shit and make shit work." He revealed that he doesn't consider himself an amazing visual designer and that he even had some reservations at first about accepting the title.

I feel the same way myself. I know that visual design is not one of my main strengths. I grapple with the idea of calling myself a designer, especially as I've been applying to internships lately with titles like 'UX Design Intern' and 'Visual Design Intern.'

Travis explained that there's a lot more to being a designer than simply making things pretty-

At it's root, design is about solving problems. That's what I'm here for. I don't think I'm amazing or even very good at designing beautiful things. I know for sure that my drawing skills aren't superb. I don't know if I'll ever be- I just haven't used that part of my brain much, the 'right side' if you will. But I am good at solving problems. My analytical skills are strong. That's what my undergraduate education was all about, learning how to analyze problems. That's how I've spent most of my time and mental energy. I'm able to grasp the nuance of complex issues and explain nebulous subjects in concrete terms. Finding patterns, seeing underlying dynamics, making sense of ambiguity.

It's good to see someone who feels like me, who wants to solve problems the same way that I do, succeeding. It means that there's a place for me somewhere out there. But I'm still not sure about the title 'designer.'

Travis ended his talk with three pieces of career advice that I'll share now for anyone who's taken the time to read this far:

  1. Design without a problem is art
  2. Don't limit your design opportunities (there's more to design than just making things for screens)
  3. Learn how to tell your story

Thanks Travis.