I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to be proactive in the practice of design. It seems as if this is more relevant today than ever, with the increasing responsibility of designers to make things that won’t harm people or their minds.
What is proactive work? Depends on your job.
For a chef, it may mean sourcing local ingredients before writing the menu.
A record producer may seek out up-and-coming talents to anticipate trends.
Photographers often shoot photos already knowing which edits they will apply later.
When good programmers write code they also anticipate change, so they make it as extensible and flexible as possible.
Architects never start designing a structure without understanding its location, purpose, and inhabitants.
So, what does it mean to do proactive work as a designer?
Just like a chef, we have to source ingredients (knowledge and context) before designing a product. We have to anticipate trends in the industry and know when to follow them, and maybe more importantly, when not to follow them. We have to prepare for how our designs will change with future requirements and when real users interact with them. We have to design responsibly, considering edge cases and social impact. And of course, to design well, we need to be informed about the contexts in which our work will be used.
In short, proactive design is design that takes its time to prepare for the side effects of real life.
That form you designed may not work on mobile browsers. That new feature you built might increase profit, but does it harm your user’s quality of life? Does your design system scale when you add a new feature to your product?
Designing proactively takes time, attention, and having the power to say no (or maybe “not yet”) to certain stakeholders. And if you’re not being proactive, you may not be doing your due diligence as a designer.