Designing Everything

Do as much as you can on purpose.

Published on

Around 3 minutes to read

The second worst trick designers ever pulled was convincing the world that design is primarily about colors and fonts.

The worst trick designers ever pulled was believing that ourselves.

Designers have one of the biggest unfair advantages for success in the world: we’re skilled, trained, and practiced and prioritizing and making decisions.

Think about the act of creating a color palette. In the RGB spectrum, there are 16,777,216 different colors available. Most brand color palettes have about 3–5 colors in them. Who is responsible for choosing 5 effective colors out of 16 million? Designers. Regularly. This is a routine part of the job, a standard responsibility and expectation of even the most junior designers. Talk about pro-level prioritizing and decision-making skills.

Yet, we freeze up when we have to apply those skills to anything outside something we can make on a design tool on our computers. Create a 3-color t-shirt? I’ll do it in my sleep. Normalize our family budget? Danger, Will Robinson!

Most problems are design problems, which is just a fancy way to say that design can provide a solution to them. How? First, we have to abstract the definition of “design” from the typical meaning of “to produce a drawing or artifact.” It does mean that, but it has other definitions too. My favorite is Jared Spool’s version: design is “the rendering of intent.” That intent could be a website that has a particular job as much as it could be a system I have for washing the dishes.

Designers are often asked about their process. Why? Because there’s often more value in how a designer does something that what they make. But we regular forget or ignore that.

My oversimplified design process goes something like this:

  1. Observe something and think about it for as long as I can and from as many different angles as I can see until I have some ideas, theories, and hypotheses about how it could be better.
  2. Work on changes to that thing in a way that I and others can see, touch, hear, smell, and/or taste.
  3. Use that thing and/or watch others use it to see if the changes made it better or worse.
  4. Repeat for as long as I can until something else is more worthy of my attention.

This process has proved helpful to me when I was working on mobile apps to help people get healthier as well as helping a friend get better grades on their exams.

Earlier this year, my wife Em hit me with this zinger: “Why don’t you run our family as well as you run your teams at work?”


It stings because she was right.

When I run a team, I go to great lengths to establish and sustain a culture of safety, sharing, bravery, and creativity. I pioneer rituals. I mold timelines and expectations. I do everything in my power to help everyone involved experience better opportunities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Why wasn’t I this intentional with my kids, with my marriage, and with our home?

Challenge accepted.

Over the past few months, Em and I have been trying to design the way we want our family to live and grow. We know we can’t control that, and we know that we have great influence over it. (That’s the life of a designer.) That has taken a few different forms, from instituting a system for how we do family meetings to involving our kids in more conversations about money and earning to being more purposeful about being silly and playing with them, and a lot more. It’s the start of our family’s operating system, and we’re already reaping some of the rewards of planting those seeds.

Sharing these things with a few friends and family have encouraged us to share it more widely, so we turned it into a new venture that we launched earlier this week called Great Job! We realized that being intentional about raising kids is a great job—it’s great and it is a job—and most caregivers need more reminders that they’re doing a great job. We’re starting by sharing what’s worked for our family through weekly articles on the site and daily tips on Twitter and Facebook. We’re also working on some other things like downloadables, a podcast, and more. (If you have suggestions and ideas for what could help you or others in your life who want to be more intentional about raising amazing kids, reply to this email and let me know!)

Overall, designing everything means you’re doing as much as you can on purpose.

What are some things you’ve designed in your life? Reply and let me know. I want to hear your stories!

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