How to Shut Up and Listen with Your Own Creative Work

Edit: I realized, near the end of this post, that this is actually not an easy question to answer. Regardless, I made the daring attempt, and I am open to any advices and criticism.

Reading Tom Igoe’s Making Interactive Art: Set the Stage, Then Shut Up and Listen  was a wonderful experiences. Babysitting with audiences/users happen to not just interactive artists, but designers as well, and it happens way too often then it should be.

I can’t say that I am a master designer/interactive artist, but I have learned some good lessons when I was new to design. I am aware of such problem exist and I put efforts to avoid making such mistakes. I shared my collected thoughts in hoping that I could help some fellow friends and strangers becoming one of such babysitters.

  1. Respect (first and most important)

    I remember an anecdote from Chip Kidd’s TED speech, (a New York based graphic designer who designed Jurassic Park posters and 1Q84 bookcase) in which he shared an experience of his first design class, and his teacher showed the following example:

    Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 10.52.33 Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 10.51.57Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 10.52.02

    “Because this is treating your audience like a moron, and they deserve better.”

    “Not treating your audience like a moron” is one of the first things I learned about design, and it still holds true to me. I often question myself what is the purpose for my current project, either it being a poster, a typeface, a powerpoint, or an LED that lights up when I pressed a button (this one maybe means little to my audiences, but I had a great time when I finally made it work).

    Graphic designers use graphics and typography as their language of communication. Similarly, interactive artists use physical elements as their language to communicate. There is a fine line between too much information and not enough information. Inexperience and lack of knowledge of content could result in a lack of information, and arrogance and superficial premature assumption of target audiences could lead to too much information.

    The right amount of information leaves room for audience’s imagination. It encourages cognitive and critical thinking, helps people engage with the contents and gives people certain sense of accomplishment when they finally get that finally piece of jigsaw.

  2.  Purpose

    It is important to find out the purpose for a project at early stages. In Buxton, Sketching User Experiences: the Workbook, authors noted that many programmers and designers started a project without a clear interaction model in mind, which resulted inevitable obstacles in testing stages.

    Happy Feedback Machine is a good example of a design with a simple but clear interaction model. This project was designed with young and curious targets in mind, and the results are very open-ended and suitable for adventurous spirits.

  3. Self-reflection

    People hates to be pointed around, especially creative people. I always saw designers/creative workers dash out their rage against “stupid requests” by their “clients” online, and they are suppose to know better than these “clients” regarding of understanding the needs of the message receivers (audiences), but people made mistakes like the apple example regardless.

    And I sympathize that.

    If I work on a project intensively, I start to lose my judgment. It is difficult to tell the good and the bad, nor making any meaningful adjustments. My work became alien. And there was little I could do. I went to my friends and mentors for fresh perspectives, or leave it alone for a couple of days. Most of time? That was a sign to let go and to move on. And I wasn’t even particular concerned about audience interaction at that time.

    Movie directors need to force themselves not thinking about the movie in order to have a point of view from audiences. It is an universal dilemma for all people in creative industry.


As my words dragged longer and longer, I realized that this is not an easy question that I could wrap up with a couple hundred of words. But I do have a simple trick I often used when criticizing my work to avoid such problem: simply imagining myself without any knowledge of what-so-ever that I was working on, and kept asking dumb questions. Write down these questions, and try to answer them with simple answers. If you can’t came up with a simple solution, you probably can dig something up that worth thinking twice.


1 thought on “How to Shut Up and Listen with Your Own Creative Work”

  1. This is a good, thoughtful post. I think you are right, it’s not something you can solve in a few hundred words; maybe it’s not something with a solution, but something we’re continually working at doing better. I think this is the key to your argument here:

    There is a fine line between too much information and not enough information.

    And that line is easily crossed, depending on who you are, who your intended users are, and how much you know about each other. The more you do know about them, the more chance there is you will design to match their experience and capabilities. To take Chip Kidd’s argument a step further, you’re only treating the viewer like a moron if he already knows the relationship between the word and the thing. But if he doesn’t, then you’ve done him a service by connecting them. Part of our job as designers is to learn whether or not the viewer needs the extra information or not.

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