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The case for beauty

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Iran Narges at Adaptive Path is one of the speakers at From Business to Buttons. Get her views on collaboration between graphic designers and UX designers and the provocative case of beauty.

Hello Iran Narges, Lead Experience Designer at Adaptive Path, you will be speaking and also hosting a workshop the day after From Business to Buttons, what can we expect from your sessions?
– I’ll start with the workshop, which I originally created for UX Week 2014. I titled it To Helvetica and Back: Visual Design Skill Building and Literacy for Non-Designers. It’s a half day, structured around a series of hands-on exercises. Attendees will be using scissors, paper, pens, and glue – no digital tools required. I created it to help people who are not designers by profession feel more informed about graphic design, introduce them to some history, some basic vocabulary and concepts, and allow them to practice those concepts. That’s the enrichment/visual literacy component.

– The other objective of the workshop is equipping people to collaborate more effectively with designers. We’ll go through an exercise that includes problem framing, design, and finally practice critiques.

What is the topic for the session on the main stage?
– My talk is called The Case for Beauty, and I’ve created it for this conference. It’s a cocktail of design philosophy, history, and my own perspective and observations as someone who came to the experience design world from a graphic design background. If you believe what you read in business journals, we are in The Age of Experience and The Age of Design. Many businesses now aspire to be more design-led and to compete by creating great experiences. I don’t think it’s possible to create a truly great experience, as opposed to one that is merely okay or sort of good, without beauty. It’s not easy to make something beautiful, but it’s worth it. I’ll talk more about why in April, and hope to win some converts.

What are your best advice to improve collaboration (and in the end; the results) between graphic designers and UX designers?
– Throughout my career, I’ve experienced the best results collaborating closely with people from different disciplines. I first learned that lesson working with printers, and re-learned it working with developers. I believe it applies universally. If you are relying on someone to contribute their professional expertise to your project, give them the fullest view possible into the nature of the problem you’re trying to solve. The best way to do this is by bringing collaborators into the process early. Give them room to exercise their ingenuity in ways you might not have thought of.

Is this the philosophy at Adaptive Path, were you have worked for the last two years?
– Yes, at Adaptive Path we assemble small, cross-functional project teams who are assigned to a project end-to-end – we even work in a dedicated project room for the duration of the project. I’m not suggesting that every organization can or should replicate that model, but it’s a great example of creating conditions to enable collaboration across disciplines.

– To sum up: involve collaborators early, and work closely with them to make the most of their expertise. It’s not an assembly line – you’re not stamping out widgets.

What are the most enjoyable things you do in your job?
– At Adaptive Path (and now Adaptive Path at Capital One), my job is broader than just graphic design and art direction, though they remain part of my core competency. Working in small cross-functional teams as I now do, I engage in other activities that were new to me – and fortunately, I really enjoy them!

– I quickly fell in love with qualitative research – talking to people and hearing their stories is endlessly fascinating. It’s a treat and a privilege to be allowed into the lives of strangers. I love the conversations and the surprises, and the discipline of paying such close attention to someone else. There’s a component that’s very intuitive – you’re reading their words, but also their omissions, their tone, body language, facial expressions. Synthesizing the research is both intuitive and analytical, and I love the interplay there. It’s mentally challenging, but highly invigorating, to dig deeply for insights, and closely examine what people have actually said to you.

– One thing I don’t really get to do as much anymore is deep formal exploration – in my work at AP, the exploration tends to come earlier, in the conceptual phase. I still design things, even things with elements of beauty. But the greatest pleasure in the artifacts that I create at AP is seeing how useful they are to our clients and partners – it’s very satisfying to find forms that allow ideas to live and spread within an organization.

As you mentioned earlier, you want to bring the word Beauty in to the designer equation, what do you mean by that?
The word “beauty” is provocative. It’s a word with powerful resonance, and connotations that are subjective, emotional, intimate – qualities we don’t usually think of as “businessy”. “Beauty” has depth and weight, as opposed to the word “pretty”, which is shallow and un-serious. The difference between “pretty” and “beautiful” in design is meaning – we aspire to create things that combine formal excellence with significance.

– I mentioned “The Age of Experience”. Well, experience is inherently subjective. It’s sensory, it’s personal, it’s felt. If we are saying that, given rough product parity, the best experience wins (and I believe that), then we better pay attention to the subjective qualities of that experience. A great experience should delight the senses as well as engaging the mind.

Thank you Iran, we're looking forward to seeing and listening to you in April.

Don't miss to check out, and sign up, to Iran's workshop April 22. If you want to read more about our workshops at From Business to Buttons this is the place to go.