Droga5’s UX Director, Daniel Perlin, shares the methodology behind design based on audience and place
According to the theory of The Adjacent Possible, our best ideas are recycled or combined from the creative thinking before us. Our greatest “ah ha!” moment is actually borrowed from processes that already exist and it’s important to maximize the resources already available. Everyday design thinking, like most other disciplines, is influenced by this building process, which is the theme of the 2015 CreateTech Conference, the annual gathering of creative technologists, developers, executives, and innovators hosted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s).
PSFK sits down with Droga5’s Daniel Perlin to learn about his refined processes for good design, the important questions to ask before any project and why listening can inspire our greatest projects.
PSFK: Can you share a little about your background and how you got started as a UX Director?
Daniel Perlin: I started my career designing interfaces and installations that I interact with through sound. I came from the outside zones of physical space, public space and an interactive engagement there. I have always been really interested in the way people engage with experiences, in real space, as well as each other. That’s how I came into the field. It’s a little bit nontraditional for the advertising zone, but I think advertising is a very forgiving medium.
PSFK: What is your idea of listening as a strategy for design?
DP: I think that to design well, we should listen. We should first listen to ourselves; then we should learn to listen to other people; then we should learn how to listen to many people.
In other words, how do we listen to things? How do you listen to the different voices in your head? How do you listen well to your own impulses? What does it mean to listen when you’re writing? What are the drones listening to, when you design a drone? These questions start to go on and on. How can I listen well to another person, if I don’t even listen well to myself?
I started definitely engaging in the digital field because I wanted to explore how we listen to groups of people and what it means when data is speaking to us. It is interesting to listen for large, active behaviors that aren’t necessarily spoken. A lot of people think “OK, it’s just hearing the sounds,” but we talk about everything from social listening to user engagement.
PSFK: What are the major differences in designing for a small group, or individual, versus a large group?
DP: When you design, you should assume that whatever you make has to have a life unto itself. That life is something that you bring in when you make something. When I design I’m think ‘I’m making and putting something out into the world.’
For example, if you were designing a really nice bouquet of flowers to give to somebody, you want that bouquet of flowers to be handled by you and given to that person. There’s an incredible experience that goes into that. Your relationship with nature and your relationship with all of these things makes for a complicated, interesting and dynamic experience.
When you design for one other person versus five million people, the scale is the challenge, but the care and the initial approach of thinking about how people are going to engage with that particular moment is pretty similar in a lot of ways.
PSFK: What are the drivers of good design today?
DP: When you design for people, it first requires designing the right methodology for each project. What I go through to create a nice bunch of flowers is different than what I’m going to employ when I design an Instagram app.
A lot of what we do should be about designing systems that allow and afford us the ability to make the best design. That’s the bottom line: you work on your methodologies that help foster good design practices. Then when you go to design, it becomes a lot more flexible.
If you find halfway through that you picked the wrong way, the wrong methodology, you should be able to switch gears and say, “Hey, look. I don’t know if we were doing this with the right approach for designing for this set of conditions, for this desired result or for these people.”
My final belief is that good design really shouldn’t be a thing unto itself: it needs to be able to be altered, shared, adapted, and learn to grow. Design is a set of conditions, of possibilities for more things to grow and be built. I really do think that we have to think through design beyond the show book once designing is done. It’s always a process.
PSFK: What is some of your advice for figuring out that methodology?
DP: Children have a great approach: if you start with some really basic questions, you are going to get some really incredible opportunities that will continue to flow into incredible creative opportunities.
The first thing I start any project with is simple and infantile questions. “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “Why?” “How?” In advertising, actually thinking about who you’re designing for and who you’re making stuff for is the best place to start. By listening, you might be able to make the the things that they don’t even know they need yet.
PSFK: How have consumers’ digitally-driven lives changed the way you, or your team, create?
There’s no question: new technologies have really helped me and my team to make better stuff. Right now, the production and availability of good tools for making is phenomenal. That said, do I have to design now for so many different types of experiences? Yes, I have to design for mobile experiences, design for watches, design for everything. You have to design for a wall, you have to design for an entire city.
Digital technology is a double-edged sword because everyone notices that it accelerates things forward. The speed at which consumers expect things now has altered the way we design. Rapid prototyping and rapid designing are now expected as norm for everyday experiences for making.
PSFK: Within design, do you also think it’s possible to recycle ideas?
DP: There’s always an idea that came out of other thinking before, which is saying that things are always already present. The adjacent possible, the speculative fiction, the thing just around the corner, the thing that’s right next to you—it’s always already present.
Technology is one of the ways that things become present, and helps us listen, in some ways. It enables us to gather patterns of behavior communication with others. If I were to put it into my own language, I’d say it’s about “listening really closely to what is possible.”
4A’s CreateTech Conference is an annual gathering of creative technologists, developers, executives, and innovators in advertising, media, and other digital industries. Tickets for CreateTech 2015 taking place on November 11 and November 12 in NYC are available now.