Mediocrity and the current state of design

I wrote a long essay in my newsletter about mediocrity and the current state of design.

It was largely in response to Robert Fabricant’s The big design freak-out: A generation of design leaders grapple with their future article, but also connected with some thoughts I’ve been having about AI, Product and mediocrity.

It will probably mess with the SEO to re-post the whole thing here, so I’ll just link to the newsletter issue instead.

The tl;dr version is that design often strives for perfection when many stakeholders are really quite happy with mediocrity or, at the very least, a kind of 70% version of what could be. It’s something difficult to get our heads around as designers, I think. But we all do it in other parts of our lives, such as buying a cheap H&M T-shirt that we know won’t last. A lot of business folks are quite happy with the H&M T-shirt.

AI is very good at producing very convincing, but ultimately bland output. It will probably get better, of course, but while we might rightly worry it will take away some design jobs, we should also be wondering why it is that bland is an okay replacement. I think it’s because designers are doing a lot of this already. In the piece I argue that Product Management, while pretty good at the top end, is really pretty terrible down the bottom end. In my design leadership coaching practice I frequently here of PMs basically being “Design-GPT” prompt writers for product designers, through overly-specific requirements documents. So the output is a mediocre as you might imagine and, unsurprisingly, this sucks the joy out of the craft of designing.

Finally, I consider the some analogies from advertising, R&D, and manufacturing/engineering that may be examples of the kind of cycle design is in.

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