How Your Environment Can Influence Your Designs

Sometimes, as web and digital designers, we can get trapped in our little world of computers and software, attempting to work out the solution to our clients’ design problems, but failing to make any real breakthroughs. If you often find yourself stuck in a rut of technology, sometimes the best solution is just to get up from your desk and go experience the world outside. But what should a designer pay attention to specifically that will help get them past creative block?

Today, we’ll explore some options and discuss possible solutions.

Co-Opting The Outside World

Product and environmental designers often preach that designers need to use the world around them to create their own design solutions to problems. But what about web designers, or brand managers, or creative directors? I think the same principle still applies no matter what kind of design you do. Design, in general, is about going beneath the surface of a problem to find out the best approach. Even if it’s on a computer screen, the user experience of a design is highly customizable and subjective.

Giving The Design To The People

As much as we designers might wish otherwise, we have no control over how people choose to interact with our work. But even though that’s true, sometimes the most interesting and innovative public phenomena can come from it. Sweater bombing, street art, geocaching – all of these are unorthodox uses of things in the world that nonetheless provide a completely new and compelling experience.

Design Leaders And Setting Precedents

People make their own ‘tools’ and solutions based on what’s around them. When you’re walking in the park and you see a tree that someone has used as a resting place for their bike, that’s design in action. Some brilliant ‘designer’ has decided that this tree is the perfect size and shape for a bike rest, and it’s very likely that other cyclists will see that and think ‘hmm, that’s a great idea – I think I’ll park my bike on a tree as well.’ Think about how you can use this same concept in your own design. Is there another ‘use’ for your design that a user might see but you don’t?


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Using Others As Peripheral Vision

The opportunities for improving your designs all around you. If you’re too close to your own work (and who isn’t from time to time?) ask a friend or even a stranger to give you a quick evaluation. Observe how they interact with your design. If they point out something that you missed – say, a more efficient way to contact other users, or a better use for some feature you’ve been working on – don’t take those observations lightly. This is design fitting itself within real people’s lives, and you’d be ill-advised to ignore it.

Tiny Changes

Sometimes, even the smallest adjustments to a design can make the hugest difference in how easy and enjoyable it is for people to use. Putting a call to action button at the top of the screen rather than in the sidebar. Making the navigation icons a contrasting color so they will ‘pop’ more. Increasing the font size just a bit more than what you think most people can see (this is a big one for me). Tiny, seemingly insignificant changes like these can take your design from ignored to overwhelmingly popular in a flash.

Human Influence

Many times, people don’t even realize that they’ve created a design solution with their simple, everyday actions. If people are using your business card to write notes on the back, or to scribble down a relevant email address or extra phone number, this is gold you can mine for your next redesign. How are people reacting to the things you design? Polls and surveys can be immensely helpful here. Once your design goes live, it is part of the world, and people will use it however they see fit to get the most efficient result.

What Do You Think?

How do you create design solutions from the world around you? Is there anything you’ve learned from simple observation of people and their interactions with design? Tell us in the comments below.

Author: (73 Posts)

Addison Duvall is the author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, art, and culture. She’s written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.

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