“Arrogance in design” - Jonty Sharples at London IA

 by Martin Belam, 4 November 2011

A couple of weeks back we held the latest of our London IA evenings. I’ve already blogged about Ben Bashford’s talk on “connected things”, and today I’m posting my notes from Jonty Sharple’s talk about “arrogance in design”.

Jonty explained that he had first got into designing things because it was something he could do quite easily and lazily, but pretty soon he realised that you needed to have respect for your craft. And craft is what it is. He got into grids and typography and was hooked. Jonty argues that whatever your digital design job title, you are essentially designing products, and some of these are products that people will rely on for day-to-day usage.

He worries about “arrogant” design. Laziness. Sloppy and uncaring execution. Design that doesn’t work for the user. Design that will eventually see you, your boss, or your users lose out in some way. Jonty worries there is an attitude endemic in the “big ‘D’” design industry that we care more about job titles than we care about a responsibility to our profession. He says the reason that nobody trusts time sheets from a designer is because of a generation of freelance design “shysters”.

He cited Karim Rashid saying that with thousands of years behind us, there should not be an uncomfortable chair. Jonty did the first live bottle-opening we’ve seen at London IA, inviting a victim volunteer from the audience to demonstrate that you can spend thirtysomethingplus pounds on a bottle opener with a top designer’s name attached to it which can’t actually open wine bottles. Some “bean counter” somewhere, Jonty said, had decided that it could be manufactured more cheaply if you didn’t pay attention to the actual bits that made the design work. This, he said, was arrogance of the highest order - not caring about the utility of a product or the value to the consumer.

A type of arrogance that Jonty identified within the workplace was when UX people hand over wireframes to developers or visual designers, and fail to discuss them or engage with them, letting the deliverables do the talking.

Jonty made the point that there are billions of people on the web, which means the number of people designing web services is very low compared to the number of people using them. “It is like we’ve all been put in charge of a giant cruise ship of people” he said. He pointed out that nobody in the room appeared at the top of their career path, that we all had a learning trajectory, and that we should remember the passion and hunger that got us into doing digital design in the first place. “If you aren't passionate about what you are doing”, he said, “go and do something else.”

Good design, he argued, is design down to the last detail, and is all about care and attention: “You need to push past going for bronze”.


The next London IA night is on November 16th, and will feature Mags Hanley and Vanessa Harden. Tickets are free, and the next batch will be available on Monday 7th November at 12pm, with “Late Bird” tickets available from 6pm on Wednesday 9th November.

London IA: Notes from the talks
Martin Belam, foreword by Ann McMeekin Carrier
London IA is a network of designers, information architects and thinkers. Since 2009 the group has been holding regular meetings featuring talks about UX, or of interest to UXers. This ebook is a compilation of my notes from those evenings, featuring talks by Andy Budd, Giles Colborne, Cennydd Bowles, Claire Rowland, Jason Mesut, Ben Bashford, Chris Heathcote, Dan Lockton, Relly Annett-Baker, Michael Blastland, Margaret Hanley and Richard Rutter amongst others. Topics covered range from ubicomp to psychology, from learning how to sketchnote to how to write a UX book, and how to improve digital design through diverse routes like copy-writing, designing for doubt, learning from music technology or taking care of typography.
London IA: Notes from the talks is available for Kindle for £2.47.

1 Comment

So, can we know which bottle opener it was?

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