In addition to heading design at Cred, Harish Sivaramakrishnan is also the founder and lead vocalist at Carnatic progressive rock band Agam. In this candid Q&A, he debunks commonly-held myths about design.
The digital world and its many shiny metrics have led to an obsession with ‘ROI’ and design has not been spared. What’s your view on the ‘ROI of design?’
Design and functionality are not dissonant.
As for ROI, it can be measurable and perceived – both are important for the overall success of a product. Design can directly help improve measurable, quantifiable metrics.
But the purpose of design is not to stay in your comfort zone. Design should also aim to push the envelope. It must try and move the needle on qualitative and perceived outcomes of a product.
2. Design’s raison d’etre is to solve problems. Agree or disagree?
Solving problems as a goal for anything, design included, is the most unimaginative way of building.
Whatever we create, should serve a purpose and not just solve a problem. It has to do its job well – that’s a bit like breathing for me. For a person to be alive , they need to be breathing. But ‘living’ and ‘being alive’ are different.
Design is a lot like that. It is a creative pursuit. It has craft, artistry, imagination, non conformity. To reduce this to a mere ‘problem solving’ pursuit results in uninspiring products.
In short, design should solve problems, but the purpose of design is larger than that.
3. Can something that’s functional but ugly, be called well-designed? An argument that’s trotted out a lot: Amazon isn’t beautiful, but it works.
I won’t comment on others in the ecosystem.
Just because something works, that doesn’t mean it is the best way to build it. The aim of a designer should never be to limit creativity to bare bones solutions. Instead, the aim should be to design a beautiful, faster, frictionless experience.
For me, everything matters. Great UI is as important as fast transaction processing.
The worst way to design is to limit your creativity to make something ‘just work’. If it ain’t beautiful (visually and otherwise), it ain’t well designed. Lastly, all functional things aren’t necessarily well designed.
4. Good taste and aesthetic sense are highly subjective: What’s your personal yardstick?
Paul Graham has two incredible essays on this. I recommend that everyone read these.
Good taste is not subjective.
Borrowing from Paul’s words, very few would deny A R Rahman is a great musician. You may or may not like all his work, or he may not even be your favourite. Aesthetics is a bit like that. A certain style of aesthetic may not be what you relate to, but that doesn’t make it less aesthetic.
Similarly when something is dirty, it is not a subjective opinion. We will all agree something is unclean, but will have differing degrees or tolerance to it. You would never have someone look at a dirty corner and call it clean. Good taste and aesthetics are similar. The degree of that feeling is variable, hence subjective, but the feeling itself is very objective.
5. Another popular generalisation: Make user experience simple and friction-free. What’s your take?
Efficiency and beauty can be engineered for.
Efficiency is very important, but designing solely for efficiency will create lifeless products. The right interventions, friction that creates intrigue, the right degree of simplicity, delight at every step – these are all important considerations for me.
Designing for a successful outcome also needs to consider the journey of the user. If you have had a good journey, the outcome feels more rewarding. Of course, a good journey with a bad outcome won’t amount to much, but a good journey leading to a good outcome is much better than an uninspiring journey with a good outcome.
Hence, simple may not always be the solution. Treating simplicity as a silver bullet may not always yield the best results.
6. The most important piece of advice you would give anyone building a product
Create, don’t fix.
Having a creator mindset will always force you to not monkey-patch solutions. Always build elegantly.