Yurou Zeng

I Wish I Didn’t “Know” Design

There are days I wish I was a beginner again, to have their eyes, I would give anything to see the word in an unfiltered light. In a way that’s not saturated by technicalities, by grids and rules and expectations. Even if it’s just for day, to be able to see mountains of possibility rather than just the executable molehills. To find and jot down ideas before my mind unconsciously blocks them with a “that’ll never work”.

I recently read Paul Graham’s essay, “What We Can’t Say” and I’d like to ask that as it pertains to design, what can’t we design? Why? What haven’t we thought of? And why? What are the industry and business standards in place that prevent us from thinking outside of the box, and to whose interest do they cater to? I always seem to go back to the topic of “same-ness” in web design, and that idea is also relevant here. The reason websites and product default to one style is because it works. And it’s not always a bad thing, but when we parallel that with society and think of it as sanitizing and censoring the web of its potential, the move becomes awfully bleak. Graham writes that in every age, we’re surprised by the beliefs and ideals of the past and think the present superior and correct. The same can be said of the web, while we evolved from the (chaotic) web of the past, we consider current design to be a whole lot prettier, usable and simply better than it was before. But what of the future? Will design in the future come to look down on our current interfaces? Will the move towards 3D and sound eventually make plain 2D interfaces obsolete? As Graham puts it, “how can you see the wave, when you’re the water?”. 

Bringing it back to the idea of a “beginner”, what I mean is someone who hasn’t gone through the process of developing a “designer’s eye”, who doesn’t have a set criterion tattooed in their head, judging everything they come across. The sand to our water, watching the waves shift and change and questioning the motions of the sea. Designers are given limitations all the time, and soon enough, these limitations become engrained in their process. But for new and great ideas to come, we have to step outside the bounds. How can design progress if we don’t break the rules a little?

I’ll leave with one last quote from Paul Graham: “If you can think things so outside the box that they’d make people’s hair stand on end, you’ll have no trouble with the small trips outside the box that people call innovative.”

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