First principles and my new role

Dec 2021

I remember sitting on the train home in 2012 at the start of my 2.5hr journey home reading a job description for a UX design positon and thinking, “that’s me”. It wasn’t a widely-used term at the time, but as soon as I read that I would be “conducting user research”, “designing UI” and “building prototypes” I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

I had no design contacts. I thought that you needed to code to be a web designer.

It took me 8 years and 8 roles (at 4 companies) to transition from content production to design.

In the New Year, I’m joining the Fyld team as Strategic Design Lead. The broad remit of the role will be to work with the Senior Leadership team to craft the strategy, then working within the design team to deliver it.

8 years ago, I didn’t realise that a role like this existed.

Now, I believe that strategy plays a larger part in the design career pathway than ever before. Technology threatens to disrupt the status quo of building prototypes in Figma:

  • Design patterns for services are established; the UI of most online services is some combination of forms, tables, dashboards and buttons
  • Algorithms are nailing personalisation; everyone using TikTok or Instagram has a unique experience
  • Machine learning and AI predictions are trusted by the world’s biggest industries

The inflection point where these three things combine in the form of a completely personalised UI that predicts which components a user needs cannot be far away. In some ways (chat bots etc) it’s already here, albeit in quite a constrained way.

It’s my belief that designers will begin to transition into positions where they will be asked to think much more strategically. Their work will largely fall at either end of the UI experience; defining the rules of the design system and improving the style and interactions of the UI. Computers will handle the rest.

It’s why, for the past 12-18 months, I’ve focused on honing a number of design and design-adjacent skills:

  • Frameworks; building design systems and brand guidelines, writing and defining documentation and processes that other people will look to for advice
  • Research and reports; creating reference material that other people can go to understand the latest customer and user experience
  • Strategy; deeply understanding the objective and the tactics that will drive us toward it
  • Analysis; to understand where patterns may emerge

The common theme here is thinking in first principles. Approaching design like a physicist. Understanding how customers interact with the service as a whole. Not just replicating the offline world - breaking the their problems and processes into component parts and reconstructing them.

As a designer, our role is changing. The days of producing reference prototypes to be built by developers are numbered.

Focus on first principles. Understand “the why”. Understand the business strategy. Deconstruct and reconstruct.