Investigative Design

Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2022 by Sri.Tagged TROPE

When I was offering freelance design services, I was not comfortable calling myself a "graphic designer". The marketplace, I felt, believed that graphic designers were good at making cool-looking logos and illustrations. While I love that stuff too, my approach to design projects tended to go deep into understanding the problem itself before I drew a swoosh or selected a color swatch.

My search for the unspoken truth behind a given problem reminded me of investigating a crime scene. A potential client would say what they wanted and when, but oftentimes there would be missing context that I would have to tease out to form a more complete working model of what they were doing. I would ask a variation of these questions:

  • What is the ACTION you want to take?
  • What is the EXPECTATION that you have from completion of the ACTION?
  • What is the INTENT behing the action?
  • What is your MOTIVATION for handling this now, versus some other time?

I wouldn't have to always ask them one-after-the-other, but I would be taking notes on what each of these elements were so I could imagine what would go toward the solution. Then I would deliver a brief that outlined everything to confirm our understanding.

This is not a popular approach to take with people who just want a logo. Therefore, I started using the "Investigative Designer" label to indicate that there was more to it.