Designers Live in a Hellscape Created by Other Designers

Veteran product designer explains why this is a good thing

Michael McWatters
OneZero
Published in
5 min readAug 24, 2020

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A sketch of a USB Type-A plug
Guaranteeing you’ll be wrong half the time. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

“You ruined my life! All I see everywhere is bad design!”

— A non-designer friend

The outburst surprised me. I guess years of listening to me point out bad design finally took its toll. Instead of just traveling blithely through life, my friend now found himself scrutinizing everything around him, often finding things lacking, ill-conceived, and frustrating.

“Congratulations,” I told him. “You’re now officially a designer.”

“I guess one of the curses of what you do (as a designer) is that you’re constantly looking at something and thinking, ‘Why is it like that and not this?’ And so, in that sense, you’re constantly designing.”

Jony Ive, Objectified

One night, after listening to me gripe about yet another example of poor design — it might have been a TV remote, light switch, or photo app — my wife said, “It must be miserable being you.” I knew what she meant: I’m always judging things around me. When something doesn’t work as expected, I conduct an on-the-spot audit and redesign. I’m not miserable, though. Well, at least not about my ad hoc redesigns.

I did, however, make a mental note: Stop redesigning things out loud. It bothers people.

Many designers think of design as an act of creation, an additive process, a form of construction. These characteristics are of course essential parts of the design process. But good design actually begins with an act of demolition and deconstruction, of tearing things apart before ultimately reconstituting them in a better way. It starts either by finding flaws in an existing product or experience or ripping away at assumptions to create something wholly new and novel.

I’m always wary when I hear solutions being discussed before problems.

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Michael McWatters
OneZero

VP, Product Design at Max | HBO Max. Formerly TED. Better after a nap.