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Creativity is overrated

Creativity is counter-intuitive to designers who set out to re-invent the wheel. There are a bunch of thesis and principles that guide how users interact with the system

A person drowing in a lake holding sparklers as they drown

As a designer, you’ve probably been told this before: “Become more creative”, or “let your creative juices flow”, or “add more creativity to it.” And you, scratching your head might have wondered how the eff do I get more creative? How do I unleash my creative demons? What is it like being “more creative”? Was I not creative enough already? — yea, all those questions.

After all, what does the term creativity really mean for a designer? I’m sorry to be bearer of bad news, but let’s face it: creativity is overrated.

Seriously, I can speak from my personal experience. Creativity alone did not get me here. I am not frigging Pablo Picasso. I have done a ton of different types of design works — ranging from web, print, mobile to motion, and I was not being creative all the time. Yet, I got my work done.

Creativity is probably for artists, singers, painters, ad makers, actors, screenwriters — we, user-oriented designers cannot afford to be too creative. By user-oriented, I mean UX and UI designers. I personally feel creativity is actually counter-intuitive to designers who set out to re-invent the wheel. There are a bunch of thesis and principles that guide how users interact with the system. Any bad experimentation could cost us dearly. Changing how users interact with buttons and controls could birth more problems than solving the existing.

The worst thing you can do as a UX designer is try to reinvent the wheel.

Keep It Silly Simple 💋

One of the most difficult things with creativity is simplicity. Oftentimes, clients evaluate the amount of work you’ve done based on the density of your design. Density is terrible word to use here, but this has affected my relationship with my clients immensely. Clients hate the whitespace, they want information overloaded to the core. How do you deal with those clients or product managers? I know it’s hard, but the guru mantra here is to keep it simple — deal with one thing at a time. That’s how the design principles of both iOS and Android phones are laid out: present users with one action in each screen.

Designers at Apple and Google have done all the necessary research for you. They’ve figured out how to create a nav bar, how to design effective login screens, they’ve done enough head-scratching to decide what’s the best content hierarchy. Stick to their findings. This really helps you make decisions faster, and adhere to what works best.

What works best is the greatest thing I care about when designing, rather than what looks good.

Going back to the earlier argument: so what are designers really paid for when they’re just copying someone else’s work? Hmm, that’s one way to look at it. Really, if we’re going to use guidelines created by somebody else, maybe download and use a Figma UI library created by somebody else, so where do we really inject all the creativity we have? In today’s design landscape, it really isn’t about what unique thing you’re building (maybe you’re building something unique in product level), but I think your content structure, design pattern, interaction methods should all be consistent.

Jakob Nielsen is your friend

Jakob’s law is something I live by everyday. Don’t try to innovate on things your users are already used to. Users spend a great deal of time in other sites, and when they come to your site, they expect the same experience. If you design

Example of shopping webaite header where they all have similar design patterns Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Flipkart header examples Example of shopping website header where they all have similar design patterns Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Flipkart header examples

If you’re familiar with online shopping, you must have noticed a consistent pattern how they’re designed. Look at the earlier example of Amazon, eBay, Flipkart and Daraz: see something similar? The header, the search and category are all laid out almost identically. This is not these big companies “stealing” each other’s ideas. It’s basically them helping their users figure out things easily. Somebody who had looked for stuff on Amazon will be well versed with the experience, and that will help them navigate Flipkart or Daraz/Lazada easily. This is very intentional and that’s what Neilsen stresses on.

No e-commerce designer should try to get too creative and try and move things around. Let’s say we change the navigation bar (because hell our creative juices be flowin’) and see what impact it will have in the users’ experience in the website. I’m sure me as a user I’m going to be lost and thrown off. I’ll probably not search. Less search means less discovery and less discovery means less sales. And less sale is the last thing an e-commerce will want.

UX Design is not art

Historically, design has been associated with artistic capabilities; and that’s true. Graphic design, motion graphics, advertisement design etc. are all part of the same art domain. However, UX is not. You might argue UI is, and let’s for the sake of this conversation agree that indeed is. But UX is a completely different beast that lives in a different domain, a different wavelength. You cannot bucket UX designers as artists. They’re not.

I’d like to emphasize on the point that yes, as a designer, creativity and innovation are the two things that drive us. We want to do something new, something exciting, something never done before. That’s one avenue where we certainly can get creative. There are designers out there who are every single day discovering easier, more effective solutions to the problems.

As a UX designer, I really think our work is to achieve the goal and help it grow. We forever seek ways how we can help the users do better. UX is not a blank canvas that you can paint your wild imaginations on. Imagination and assumption are the two worst enemies of a UX designer.

UX designers helping the businesses grow. They’re helping users build habit, solve a problem or obtain something (physical and otherwise). UX designers follow a specific process, live by a specific rule book to achieve a specific goal. This specificity requires training and aptitude. It demands empathy and ability to process information. So I say kids, UX design could actually make you a better human being because you’re building an insane amount of compassion and affinity throughout the process.