Design, motherfucker, do you speak it?

Jules Winnfield’s speech in Brett’s apartment has become the stuff of legend as Pulp Fiction quickly left the world of mere films and entered into pop culture.

A frightened punk, caught in the middle of lunch, is too nervous to answer any thing other than “what?”, back at all the questions Samuel L. Jackson’s character is firing at him.

(…)
Brett: What?
Jules: What country are you from?
Brett: What? What? Wh – ?
Jules: “What” ain’t no country I’ve ever heard of. They speak English in What?
Brett: What?
Jules: English, motherfucker, do you speak it?

Poor Brett ends up as dead as his friend on the couch, but that’s beside the point.

There’s a certain quality to good dialogue, good text, great writing that makes it easy to remove sentences from context and apply them liberally in other situations.

You can easily say “I find your lack of kerning… Disturbing!”, and you’ll saying much more than simply “your letters are out of whack”.

Such is the case with the title of this text.

After 15 years working as a designer for the web I still think people fail to understand it.

Design, that is.

Sure, one can’t expect everyone to understand everyone else’s work, but I believe there’s something to gain from better understanding design. The contribution of a good designer to almost any project can be priceless and sometimes signify the difference between following a predictable path and veering off into the unexpected.

And I think doing unexpected things is an important factor in innovating.

Being that I am approaching 40, a certain amused quietness has come over me and I just sort of quietly chuckle to myself whenever someone presents a set of wireframes and utters the words: “nevermind the look of it, this still has no design”.

I may just smile and wave at these shards of ignorance – and even understand that the people uttering them are doing so for the benefit of the audience – but I must confess that once in a while, I still feel like jumping on a table and just going on a Tarantinesque tirade which could only end in tears and gunfire.

“Everybody cool, I’m a designer! If any of you fucking pigs mention design one goddamn more time, I’mma execute every motherfucking last one of you!

Design is a fucking process, not some block of butter you spread on things all buttery-like! And it pretty much started when y’all threw your asses in a little air conditioned room and started tossing ideas around! See… that’s part of the process, right there… the design process, motherfucker!

If you don’t understand programming, you stay out of the way of the programmer, right? Then why is it that, if you don’t understand design, you won’t get out of the goddamn way of the designer, bitch?

Now, see… designers do crazy shit. That’s the point. If you have a guy that just throws colors and shit on your wireframes, then shoot the motherfucker, he’s not a designer, he’s a decorator, just throwing pillows and curtains around; go get the motherfucker who designed the wireframes, cause he’s your designer.

Not good at the visual side of things? Then get someone who is and make a design team. Or, hell, just shoot the wireframe guy and get a motherfucker who’s good at everything. Good luck, by the way.

Is this really that hard to get? You begin using design when you start using design thinking, that’s – and pardon my french here – a divergent cognitive process. What that means is that while your ass is going all “we should do this, because it’s been done before and it worked”, a design thinker will go: “fuck that shit, let’s raise puppies to lick our users every time they fill out our form!”

And you’ll all go: “whaaa…?”, but then, someone will take that stupid fucking idea and change it to “let’s mail our users a picture of a puppy, if they help us out with the survey”, and then soon enough, you’ll be at: “let’s create a badge system by which users get awarded a cute animal badge every time they do something for us and we’ll set up an online collection page for people to keep and show off their badges”.

BAM, motherfucker!

Because you let one crazy-ass designer into your team at an early stage you just increased your chances of actually having a cool product. Now, keep that motherfucker involved! Stop building your goddamn product all the way until you need visual design and then, at the last minute, asking some sorry-ass intern to “put a coat of paint” on a crappy product with a stupid layout built on top of some boring as fuck wireframes!¹

I mean, don’t y’all have a fucking Mac and a motherfucking iPhone in your pocket? Do you think those toys have gotten into your pants, no pun intended, simply because of a kickass business plan? Hell no! Those are design babies, right there, those things are so motherfuckingly designed they’re oozing with the stuff.

What was Apple’s motto again? Ah, yes… “Think different”.

That’s what motherfucking design is, right there: think different.

“Hell, shit…!” you might say, if your momma had raised you right, “if that’s the case, then why did I hire a designer? Hell, everyone can be a designer!”

Right, right, I see what you did there. Now, listen: designers are trained, right? They don’t have to be trained in a motherfucking University, but they are trained, they know the process, they cultivate their minds, they are curious, they absorb crap you wouldn’t even notice was there. Your number crunchers crunch numbers, your developers discuss languages and think of databases, right? So you need a design guy who’s trained to do design, it’s all because of the “think different” thing.

The same way an engineer will look at a bridge and tell you how it was built, a designer looks at the world and wonders what the thought process behind everything was. That’s why we’re so fucking annoying, always with the questions and then, when you least expect it, we’ll just go: fuck it, that bit is boring me, shut the fuck up. We want to know if you slipped in the bathroom, banged your head and invented the flux capacitor, we don’t exactly need to know how it works.

See, designers are like harvesters of ideas, collectors of crap they may find useful later, and that’s why they will usually bring stuff up that most other people will find odd or out of topic. The unexpected. But then, you’ve been paying attention, right? So you already know that shit.

Then, theres specialization, right? You need that too: visual design, industrial design, whatever, what I’m really trying to get across to your sorry ass is that the design process behind everything should be the same, and it’s that process that’s the real value of design.

Not the colors, not the symmetry, not the perfectly indented CSS, it’s the whacky thought process within the confines of a well-defined process. Shit, I’m impressing myself!

So, here we go: define the problem, research that motherfucker, brainstorm the fuck out of it – and I mean, get in a room with people and take off the gloves, make sure the stupidest idea of them all ends up in the final list, prototype it, test the prototypes and pick one and just fucking do it. Finally, look at the goddamn result and sketch out some rules; remember: design is repeatable, it came out of the fucking Industrial Revolution, for fuck’s sake!

Look at the “fucking do it”, bit, do you see that? Do you, bitch?! Because there, right there is the only bit you usually think of as design, that’s the bit you think design is. Look at all the shit you’re missing! That’s the specialized bit, that’s where you need your graphic designer to come up with awesome visuals for your  website or iPhone app, or whatever the hell you’re trying to make money out of.

For the rest of it, you need a design thinker. Most good designers are great design thinkers. They spend their lives looking everywhere, grabbing bits of info, collecting stuff, building a visual culture, an experience portfolio. Some people are computer geeks, some are sci-fi geeks, designers tend to be everything geeks. Ah, fuck it, I’m repeating myself.

Finally: how dare you to call yourself a designer and not know this shit? Seriously, motherfucker, are you fucking kidding me? Are you going around saying you’re a designer and that you just like pretty things, and colors and patterns? I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who claim such bullshit and refuse to take responsibility for what should be the coolest motherfucking profession in the world, right now.

Own up, bitches!”

Me, designing stuff.
Me, designing stuff.

So, rant over, what can I tell you? Well, if you’re a designer, be whacky, be crazy, be funny. My greatest design professor once looked at some crap I’d constructed out of cardboard and said: “This is funny, there’s humor in your work. Even though it’s crumbling apart because you suck at paper & paste stuff, the idea is pretty good”, and then he said something I always try to remember when I’m working: “Never loose that humor”.

A lot of people don’t like a lot of things, but most people like being amused, people share funny stuff. It doesn’t have to be hilarious, but you’ll be better off making someone smile than frown, that’s for sure.

Try irony in your work, suggest awesomeness. Be involved, talk to people, let them know you can help.

Sit quietly in meetings until you feel a sudden silence then, make a wild suggestion. You’re not the accountant, you don’t have to be serious and rational, it’s your job to explore other options, if you’re there to explore the same options as everyone else, then you bring no real value as a designer.

Absorb stuff, look at everything, be annoying, ask people if you can try their stuff out, look at their gadgets, draw on their notebooks.

Don’t take notes, notes are for project management consultants. Just get stuff into your head, shake it on a regular basis (I suggest to music, but feel free to improvise), and allow that mishmash to influence your daily reality.

In short: be creative, you’ll notice that most people aren’t and that is your strength. Collaborate with creative people (you’ll find them in the oddest places and a lot of them aren’t doing creative work). Fool around. Turn ideas on their head. Joke. Make fun of yourself.

And finally: help the grey people, they don’t know any better, but they deserve love too.

¹ If you take nothing else away from this little extravangaza, at least understand this paragraph, please.

15 thoughts on “Design, motherfucker, do you speak it?

  1. Great stuff! People should read this once in a while and get their ideas straight. I know I’ll try to do that… Thanks!

  2. I’ve known forever I am a programmer and not a designer. I *hate* the very thought of design. I have 30 shirts and only one is not a solid color (gift from an auntie).

    But I love the output from designers. I can tell in an instant which applications and web presences were professionally done. They aren’t gaudy. Most are minimalist. They beg you to use them.

    As for the other 90%…

  3. This was particularly insightful, I think, to the way most (good) designers work. I don’t think most (good) designers explicitly realize that things that you suggested for (good) designers to do are things that they do without thinking…if that made sense. Thanks!

  4. Dude, you speak a lot of truth. Some points were TL:DR but overall – nailed it.

    But why do you use the standard WordPress 2011 theme as a designer? Kinda ironic for the whole “Design, motherfucker, do you speak it?” don’t you think?

  5. I love it. I’ve gone of those friends who everyone thinks is “crazy” (in a good way, random and fun) and he’s been trying to find his path…

    Maybe he’s a closet designer and just needs to figure it out. I’ll point him towards this post :)

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