#60: Ask Why

Asking why, or questioning your decisions, tests your motive for every design decision you make. Knowing your reasons requires that you, have gone through some questions and had to answer for them. This gives you the backbone to you understanding your reasons and a place to begin when explaining why you did what you did to your client. When we can explain why we did something to someone, it reinforces our standing as professionals and eventually as experts in our field.

This might be a familiar concept to you, or it may be brand new. The idea of asking why is something that can really revolutionize your life. Asking why or as Simon Sinek says, starting with why, really changes the way you see everything. If you ask why about your designs with every decision you make, you will end up with a better end result. If you ask why people should care about what you do, you will be more aware.
There are so many areas of our lives that can be so much more fulfilling
just by us asking why. Especially as designers.

Why ask why

So why do we ask why?
We ask why to find purpose. Without a “why”, we don’t have a reason for our choices. We can sit down to a computer and start choosing elements for our designs arbitrarily and just move forward. Or, we can consider our decisions and ask why. We not only need to ask why are we doing what we’re doing, but why should anyone care? What is it about what we do that’s going to make a difference to someone?
We ask why to make better work. When we find our purpose, we can then ask more specifically about the reasons behind all of our choices and make better work.

When to ask why

Question your color choices, your type/font choices, question your placement of graphics, question everything. As you start to practice this, you will get into a rhythm of it and questioning your own motives will get easier and easier.
You want to ask why during the early layout stages of your design,
but it will continue until you deliver the final product to your client.
In the beginning you ask why about colors and all of the element choices. Ask why during your layout in the middle of the process. Then at the end you have to recheck those answers and ask why again because you will have to explain your choices and direction to your client.
The answers to your why should make sense. None of them should be able to be answered by feelings. They should primarily be objective questions with objective answers. Your feelings or opinions should have no bearing on why you are designing a certain way.

How to ask why

So maybe you’re thinking that you don’t even know where to begin to ask why. Well, to put it simply, be like an obnoxious toddler.
Keep asking why until you reduce your choices
to the simplest answer you can come up with.
For example, say you chose the typeface Gil Sans for a poster. Ask yourself why Gil Sans, because you wanted a sans serif. Why a sans serif? Because you wanted something more classic and dependable. Why? Because those are words that your client associates with themselves. Why? Because they have been around for over 30 years owned by the same family. See how that works? I mean you have to use good judgement to not go down the rabbit hole but it works wonders.
Asking why can really help you figure out your reasons and keep you from making decisions based only on your feelings.
Designer intuition is definitely be something that can develop over time but
asking why should never leave the equation no matter how experienced you are
The best designers I’ve known, follow, and read about still question themselves to keep an edge to their work. Questions ensure your work never gets old or predictable.

Asking why keeps us sharp, it keeps bad decisions at bay, and it allows us
to have a safety net to fall back on when clients question our reasoning.
Designers don’t do magic, we make strategic decisions, or at least we should. But often because we can’t explain what we do, people don’t understand what we do, and it seems like it must be magic. If we can answer why about our decisions we will no longer be seen as “magicians” but as a type of tactician. The magic happens, when we begin to see how we have become the kind of designers that people respect and admire and above all, trust.

Designers who operate from a place of why have plans and strategies, they know how to implement them, and how to explain them. Start practicing this, ask why, early and often, and you will see a difference in your work, and your clientelle, I guarantee it.

Design is a wonderful world. I hope you’ll join me here, because design matters.


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