On being a design fixer

Many times, I have been recruited to work on something after it’s already been built or there is at least a rough draft version. 

I’m not certain why this seems to happen quite often. I suppose people want to try things on their own first, or think they might not need a professional.

Many people probably know enough to get started on something, but eventually get overwhelmed and just know that something’s “not quite right” and they’re not sure how to fix it. It’s actually great to work with people that know something’s not quite right, because that sense they have is the same thing as a designer’s intuition. 

If you listen carefully to them and can respond thoughtfully, they will trust you more. You don’t necessarily need to have answers or ideas. If you don’t know the answer, but you can respond in a confident, thoughtful way that you can figure it out – most people will respect your honesty.

When I find myself in a “fixer” situation, there is always a strong temptation to want to burn it all down and design something “perfect” from scratch. After all, how can you do your best work if you aren’t given full freedom to design every detail? 🙃

Unless you’re a design god that can command that level of respect from people, you should try to work within the constraints of what already exists. I try to think of this as a difficult challenge or puzzle to solve, which reframes the design problem in my head.

Embrace the terrible font and color choices.

What is the least amount of design you can do to make things better?

Is there a way to evolve the design over time without making things clash?

Full redesigns are sometimes necessary, especially if the product has a poor design foundation.

But before tearing down the building completely, try being a repairman first and making that one thing better.

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