can't think of a good and motive for design

My question is this: Do designers, when designing a product, typically think of the general public “user,” or themselves and their vision for a product.

What I mean by this: I often think of designs for products and items that I see or own that would make them better or accomplish something. However it seems like some of these designs are really targeted and handcrafted just for me, and I’m not exactly sure if they’d translate well to a mass audience.

Let’s use this example: let’s say I am amazing at making a particular niche type of film. It’s highly praised by certain people, but attracts almost no audience and makes no money. If this was in the design world, would I:

a) keep making the films and ultimately be successful because I am talented at it.
b) adapt to the desires of the audience and make my films more tuned to what they want
c) fail miserably, and be forced to design my films entirely based on what the audience wants/desires

Basically, I’m wondering how much a design is based on the target audience, and how much is based on the designer’s own ideas.

The answer is probably some combination of both, or option B, but I’m still curious.

As a designer responsible for mass-produced products, I am a big believer in User-Centered Design based on ethnography, psychodemographic profiling and formative usability testing. Actually I must be, as I’m designing for Pharmacists, Nurses, Biomedical Engineers and Healthcare IT professionals!

Those designers “lucky enough” to practice Self-Referential-Design only do so because they themselves fit within their own market profile. This is short-lived as fads change. As Jim Collins would suggest, these designers are “time-tellers” and not “clock-builders” and are destined to fail. Do you really want to be holding Apple stock when Steve Jobs has a relapse?!

For a simple lesson in User-Centered Design, read “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” by Alan Cooper, which discusses the fallacy of the “user” and introduces the persona and goal-directed design process.

‘User-Centered Design’

You raise interesting questions Keifer… go for ID, we can use your thinking. Make video games your hobby.

Yeah, these are good questions.

I would say that most designers will swear up and down that they are practicing user center design, or user experience based design. But when it came down to it, a lot of us, especially younger designers are just designing products for themselves. And I’m not taking a crack at anyone here, just saying that this is an easy trap to fall into.

That Alan Cooper book sounds interesting, as I do use persona generation in my work.

I would think that when projects come down to the wire, designers start going by intuitions, which are probably influenced by research, but still are weighed by their own needs. It would be hard to completely disregard your own belief system right?

I believe that a core part of being a designer is to bring some of your own vision to a product, and in a sense follow an almost artistic angle to what you are doing. Although it is of great importance to consider the end user of a product, what I personally strive for is creating something that the public doesn’t know it wants yet. That new spark. The “IT” factor, so to speak.

Often times you are asked to re-imagine something that already exsists. Why is there more than one chair design? Shouldn’t the very first chair be good enough? It’s simply not. This is where I believe design intersects art. A chair for example can be incredibly expressive. Much like a sculpture. Line up a regular old folding chair with a classic Eames Lounge and Ottoman to see it first hand.

I think if you are always pushing yourself as a designer, and in a constant state of learning and developing, it doesn’t matter what you are designing.
You’re mind should be open to anything.

Good question:

I think the trick is to design products that fulfill the needs and desires of a particular group of people that you can still be proud of… in other words, you might not personally use the product, because its not for you, but the people you designed it for love it, and you put a high level of integrity into it, and so you are proud of it.

Sometimes the target consumer overlaps with who you are and you get both. In general, designer’s tastes tend to be a bit niche though, so it doesn’t happen all the time.