September 30, 2021

Product Designers are your team’s Jedi Knights

Diplomacy, humility, introspection, and more—drawing parallels between practitioners of design thinking and wielders of the Force

Hello there! I love Star Wars, and I love design. I spend a lot of time thinking about them both. So, naturally, I needed to write this piece comparing digital product designers and Jedi Knights. 😅

Product designers: practitioners of design thinking and masters of the pixel. Jedi Knights: disciples of the Force and wielders of the lightsaber. One wears tailored black, the other flowing brown robes. But both individuals embark on a career path to hone their craft, fight for the helpless, and conquer the Dark Side. How, exactly? Let’s dive in. This is where the fun begins!

Diplomacy and influence

Designers often work at the intersection of many departments in an organization—each with its unique priorities and interests. Here, a designer’s work is presented, scrutinized, and discussed, sometimes in front of very powerful people. Delicate situations and organizational baggage are all too common.

Like Jedi, designers are masters of communication and influence. Playing back decisions, balancing competing interests, and maintaining neutrality are part of the job. The best designers can guide a large group of opinionated stakeholders through a very intentional conversation to elicit a response to something.

Jedi mind tricks? Not quite. But designers frequently find themselves struggling to read the minds of their stakeholders—facing stoic expressions or incoherent ramblings.

Humility and detachment

Designers create products and services used by real people. Like the Jedi, designers should strive to respect and empower users of any ability, access, or context. A good designer views this as a privilege. What you create is not for you, it’s for another human being. Edge cases? Those are real people too.

Though dedicated to their work, experienced designers know not to get overly attached to anything they create. To serve users best, making space for other perspectives and elevating the voices of others allows them to consider a wider range of solutions. To create the space to advocate for all, the best designers and Jedi leave their egos at the door. Don’t kill the younglings, kill your darlings!

Specialized generalists

Designers are often described as having T-shaped skill sets, also known as specialized generalists. Designers, like Jedi, have a common broad range of complementary skills they employ in their mastery of design (or the Force) but can have a single area of specialization per their interests and preferences.

There are different types of designers—such as UX Designers, User Researchers, Industrial Designers, and UI Designers. Similarly, the Jedi are made up of Consulars, Guardians, and Sentinels with even more subcategories within. With each specialization come specific titles and ranks—both in the design world and the Jedi Order. Teams of designers and groups of Jedi benefit from having diverse specialists when tackling problems.

Introspection and problem-solving

Like the Jedi, designers must find harmony balancing emotion and logic, using both the intuitive and rational mind to explore the depths of a problem domain. It’s often easy to jump to solutions prematurely, but patience pays off. This space is sacred—ideally free of any competing influences, politics, and pressures.

There are no shortcuts. There are, however, inspirations and learnings from other fields and industries. As the Jedi use holocrons to access knowledge and wisdom from their forebears, designers can tap into peers, industry leaders, and analogous products for inspiration when solving design challenges. Like the Jedi, we designers are best when leveraging the collective power of the group and inviting different perspectives.

Conquering the Dark Side

The Dark Side of design? Exploiting human behavior. Purposely misdirecting users. Employing dark patterns. The Dark Side feeds on ego, short-term gains, and purposeful disregard of consequences.

A designer corrupted by the Dark Side knowingly produces work that can have catastrophic consequences in the wrong hands. They design for themselves, with disregard of people with less privilege and power. They take the quick and easy path of form over function—fancy aesthetics over usability and accessibility. Like the Jedi, designers can conquer the Dark Side by remembering their responsibility to the environment, humankind, and themselves.

Final thoughts

As the late Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn said, “Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” How will you wield such responsibility and power? Will you channel the Force and advocate for those in need or fall to the Dark Side and serve those in power?

Every Jedi faces a test in their training—a moment where they are challenged to look inward, face their demons, and emerge a different person. Designers face challenges of the self throughout their career, through failure and impostor syndrome. Like the Jedi, designers push forward, dedicating their careers to perfecting their craft, furthering their knowledge, and serving the greater good.

Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!

This article was originally published to the UX Collective on Medium.

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