Design thinking forms who we are as designers. The product we design not only reflects material reality, but also delivers our thinking, concerns, beliefs, tastes and preferences as designers. A designer’s character is his or her core, since we make design judgments depended on our own values and beliefs . Design philosophy forms part of design thinking and our design characters. Design philosophy directs why, what and how we design, around which we conduct design practices. Therefore exploring the personal design philosophy is crucial for every designer. Knowing well about that can help our design thinking and characters evolve and mature.
In this article I am going to talk about my personal design philosophy depended on my accumulated design practices, readings, design critiques, etc. I got during my past two more years in UX design area.
Before digging into my personal design philosophy, I would like to talk a little bit more about myself, since knowing about me can help to a better understanding about how my experience leads my design philosophy to evolve in a specific way.
Firstly, introversive personality makes me good at coming up with insights from observation, thinking and reflections. This is an important reason that how I found out being a designer could be my ideal career. Secondly, arts education makes me care about aesthetics. Aesthetics is a system concern, which is not only about appearance. All the details I interact with will be injected into the final products delivered to the end users and the details together form a complete user experience of functions and aesthetics, so being “picky” about details is my attitude about design.
I will discuss about my design philosophy around the following four aspects: 1) design in my eyes; 2) key principles of design; 3) my design process and 4) personal criteria of design outcomes.
Design in My Eyes
Design in my eyes means delivering my understandings about the world to more people. Designers are the ones who can realize the other people’s (end users’) needs and desires. But design is not a “finding out” process, design is distinct from problem-based reaction, design is about imagination about what doesn’t yet exist in the word and adding new things to the current world . Designers need to put their thinking, tastes, beliefs and values into the design, in which way to deliver their way to look at the “not-yet-exist” world to more people.
However, design is distinct from arts  . Purposes of arts works are for self-expression but for design, thinking only from our own perspectives will bring bias, which is not the expected result. So the people who I design for will affect my understandings. All the inputs I obtain during the design process will help my understandings about the design problem space and the whole world to evolve.
Key Principles of Design
I will talk about my key principles of design around the following five domains: rational, emotional, functional, aesthetical and ethical.
Design is intentional, purposive, and goal-seeking; it relies on reasoning . Rational is the “non-I” part in design. I need to have the ability to analyze the data I get from a subjective perspective and try to avoid personal bias, which may affect my design judgment .
Being rational also means design should have logics, for example, when we design for webpages, a good information architecture reflects strong logics behind the design. Logics help us to make simple and user-friendly design products.
Being emotional is the “I” part in design. In my opinion, being emotional is important to be a designer, because it nourishes our sensibility about details, about emotions, about the others’ needs and desires, and about many other crucial factors that design needs. Being emotional is a balance of concerning about the logics, which can help us come up with sensible observations about life and people, and unique insights and concepts.
Being emotional also means we need to put our own thinking into the design, through which we tell the people and the world how we look at and think about the world, how we interpret the others’ stories and retell the stories in our ways.
Design is a unique way of looking at the human condition with the purpose to create change . We need to create new solutions to solve problems, to function in a practical way and to bring changes. There are infinite possibilities that how to solve one particular problem , I try to deliver simple solutions to design problems, thinking about how to solve problems in a simple and functional way but making sure it works and can make the situation better.
People have desires for aesthetics, which not only includes appearance. I care about aesthetics, so I inject my tastes about aesthetics into my design, which I expect to turn out elegant. Aesthetics contains spiritual-level feeling, which is abstract to design and measure, in order to avoid my bias I need to look into the end users’ culture backgrounds, tastes, purposes, etc. to make my design acceptable.
We make design to change. The power of designers is huge. We should understand about our responsibilities as designers well in order to create responsible design. The ethical principle of mine means I won’t design harmful products for people and I will try to help with making a better world. Although it looks too general to interpret, it can prevent me to abuse my responsibilities as a designer to affect people in a wrong way.
My Design Process
Design philosophy directs design process, and design process can reveal designers’ espoused theory and theory in-action . Defining, analyzing and understanding one’s design process is also a good way to reflect-on-action , which can help designers to get a better understanding about themselves as designers and how they can improve their design ways in the future. My reflection-on-action about my design process leads to the following eight points, which are not in a specific order but can reveal the activities, flows, tools and emphasis I have in some ways.
1) familiarize myself about the design problem
Trying to be one member of the target group is my first step after narrowing down to a specific design problem for a specific group of end users. Usually we do user studies to get access to the reality, but there are two problems: it’s hard for people to tell their desires and it’s hard for designers to sense the true story. One way to solve these problems is to become one of them, get subjective descriptions, secondary research data, live their life (if possible) and look at the situations from their perspectives. Familiarizing myself by making myself one of the “target users” together with the first-hand data I collect helps me to have a deeper understanding about the problem space.
2) know what my data tells me, but can also see the hidden desires
Design is not only problem-solving, but also needs expandable rationality.  The skill to understand and analyze the data we get is necessary, but the ability to uncover the hidden desires is what makes our design treasurable and strong.
Here is an example: if a person needs an apple and tells me, I can just design an apple for him/her, and he/she can get what he/she asked for. It’s obvious and not difficult to accomplish. But good designers should ask more questions to the customer and themselves, like, why he/she needs an apple, is he/she thirsty? Does he/she need vitamins? Or he/she just need something that has round shape. Asking more questions, thinking deeper and not just looking at the surface can make our design really needed. To see the hidden desires behind the obvious needs is also crucial to come up with design with simplicity, since what we do is all for the “core”, rather than superficial and redundant garbage.
3) keep record of useful information in Google docs
This is a practical tip. Keeping information in an organized way can help us to synthesize with teammates, to keep record of every inspiring and sparkling moment, and to build up the design exemplar collections.
This is also a practical tip. Design is about communication and sketch is a good way to accomplish that. I used sketch a lot, either by hand or by InDesign; the latter can create more formal and polished mockups to show ideas.
5) iterate like a perfectionist
Our understandings evolve along the design process, since every piece of information we get will deeper our knowledge. No matter user test or the self-checking about our design can cause design iteration. Don’t be afraid of making change of what we already have, and be prepared to polish design details or even the whole idea, until it comes to a satisfying result.
6) pay attention to the visual literacy
I care about visual representation. People need not only design that is useful, but also design that is beautiful. Pay attention to visual literacy is showing the respect of our ideas and the audiences.
7) always step back and see where I am and what I am doing
We need system thinking towards design . The ultimate design result can’t exist alone; it should work in a bigger environment with an effect on more people. Sometimes when we are immersed in the large quantity of information or when we are too focused on details, we need to step back and have an overall view of where we are and what we are doing. Having a big picture of the system can prevent us from wasting time and resources in a wrong way. And system thinking can also make sure our design is harmonious in the whole environment.
8) the more I look at the others’ work, the more progress I can make
Design exemplars are inspiring for designers. I have my personal design exemplar collections, which include website design, graphic design, book design, business card design, resume design, logo design, design blog, architecture, fashion collections, etc. Apple app store is another good resource for me personally; the top popular and the latest app are where I can gain inspirations from. Studying how they work and what they look like can help me to be in the trend. Design is about communication and we need to communicate with other designers and design ideas.
My Personal Criteria about Design Outcome
Design is not science.  Science is about discovering the truth but design is about bringing changes. There are infinite possibilities of design results. Designers’ judgments  help designers to decide whether the result is what they expect and whether it’s time to end the design process and present the idea, although actually there is no clear definition of “ending” the design process.
My personal criteria about design outcome are how I make judgment upon. I will discuss around three definitions: acknowledgement, surprise and considerate.
Acknowledgement means the design result satisfies not only me and my group, but the end users and even more people. This is a subjective criterion to tell whether what we are doing meet our ultimate purposes.
Trying to give people a little bit more than they expect, and use the power of design and designers to play the magic moment when people interact with your products. But don’t overdo it, since it may cause unnecessarily overwhelming.
Be a considerate person and then act as a good designer. Think about more situations rather than the ideal ones, concern about more people rather than the people who will use the design, and envision the future rather than the time when your design is interacted with. Thinking is a big pleasure for me as a designer.
What I have stated above is my personal design philosophy so far. The understandings about it are based on the readings, my teammates, people’s stories, projects’ failures and successes, and all the inputs I have obtained during the past years. But this is an ongoing reflection-on-action, I believe with more experience and reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action, my design philosophy will evolve and mature, which can guide me to make meaningful design and be the designer I expect.
 Nelson and Stolterman, The Design Way
 Nigel Cross, Designerly Ways of Knowing: Design Discipline Versus Design Science
 Risatti, A Theory of Craft: Function and Aesthetic Expression
 Donald Schon (Schön) Learning, Reflection and Change
 Rittel, The Reasoning of Designers
 Armand Hatchuel, Towards Design Theory and Expandable Rationality: The Unﬁnished Program of Herbert Simon
 Large-Scale Complex IT System
*slideshow is here: http://www.slideshare.net/mengyaozhao/my-personal-design-philosophy