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How conservative designers can stifle innovation and creativity

A short rant about how designers dismiss new ideas under the pretext of bad UX, and why it’s bad

Over my years of working in design and collaborating with teams from the US, Europe, and South America, I’ve come to notice a typology among designers that I like to call “Mr./Mrs. Fundamentals”. It’s the type of designer that is reluctant to change and heavily skeptical of anything that strays away from what they believe are design best practices and accepted design patterns. It’s the type of designer that will immediately argue against the use of a hamburger menu instead of the more commonly-used bottom navigation bar, pointing to articles on NNGroup such as the well-known Hamburger Menus and Hidden Navigation Hurt UX Metrics. It’s the type of designer that will raise a judging eyebrow at the sight of a navigation bar such as the one in Material Design 2.0, and proceed to dismiss it as “dribbble-ish design”, that has no place in the real world.

It’s the sort of designer that loves to explain how UI is just a small (to read “almost insignificant”) part of UX, which can be easily be done with a good UI kit. It’s that person that almost takes pride in saying they don’t do visual design and that they’re interested more in the problem-solving part of the design process as if problem-solving ends when they deliver their research results and suggested solutions.

Why is this an issue?

I’m sure all designers mean well and do their best to advocate for the user’s needs, wants, and expectations. However, this tendency can be detrimental to creative thinking and innovation. It makes designers prematurely reject ideas that don’t fit their personal design ethos, without testing them or basing decisions on experiment results. It’s also difficult to overcome because it’s a tendency most are not even aware they have. This limits the number of ideas they are willing to explore, ideas which might prove to be much better solutions than the old, tried-and-true patterns they’re used to.

Let’s go back to the hamburger menu vs. bottom navigation bar example. Although in many cases, a bottom bar with 3–5 labeled buttons is a better solution than a hamburger menu, that is not always true. Take an app like Uber or Bolt for example. The entire experience revolves around a single, core screen. Presenting users with permanently-visible buttons for sections of secondary importance, such as Payments, Discounts, or Account Settings, adds to cognitive load without being relevant to the task most users are interested in — getting a ride, ASAP. Therefore, as long as the menu button is easily identifiable, a single hamburger menu might be a better fit than a bottom navigation bar. This is just one of many examples.

The main take-away

The bottom line is this: stay open to all ideas and give them the time they deserve. Don’t over-rely on your expertise and what worked in the past because each project is different. You might discover that ideas you consider too quirky or unrealistic lead you to much better solutions.

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How conservative designers can stifle innovation and creativity was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.