Design Tools Come and Go, but Design Theory is Forever

Every year, as UX Designers and Researchers, we are presented with more and more tools to ‘help’ us in our craft. A wider and wider range of options to guide us through the processes required to create usable products and services for a wide range of users. Tools for all aspects of the Design and Research process, Tools you never knew you needed to complete a project and more Tools to then link all these disparate systems together try and ensure our projects run smoothly and without any problems.

But a Tool is just “an object used to extend the ability of an individual” and, whether for Design, Research or Carpentry, is only as useful and powerful as the individual using it. Most people can describe what a wood saw looks like and how it should work. However, until a person actual tries and saw a piece of wood and create a straight edge or a complex joint they don’t always appreciate the skill of a carpenter and the years of training and woodworking theory that has gone into developing their craft.

The same approach needs to be taken in the areas of Design and Research. All the Tools in the world will not help design usable, accessible and inclusive products and services if the people and Teams behind the tools don’t understand the theory of what they are dong and why.

We need to encourage a Theory-first approach to UX Design and Research education. Ensuring that people coming into the industry understand the ‘why’ around what they are doing and not just the ‘how’. Having been involved in building Design and Research curriculums for people coming into the industry at apprentice level, the key aspect of these is that they were designed to be technology, and tool, agnostic. Where the curriculum taught a specific skill, it looked to teach the Theory behind that skill, the apprentices learned how to complete a task using the best tool for the job rather then whatever tool was currently in fashion when the learning materials were created.

This allows people to build up not just skills in how to approach the day-to-day aspects of the Design and Research work we do as professionals but also to build the confidence they need as individuals to define their purpose in an ever growing and changing profession.

Ensure that, whenever a new tool is proposed for a project Team, the Team takes the time to examine and decide what benefit it actually brings. Distilling the tool in question down to it’s theory, the essence of what the tool does, helps a Team to identify if it might prove actually helpful or if it is just adding another step to their wider processes.

The key skills we need to teach the next generation of UX Design and Research Professionals are not how to use Tool X, or how to use Tool Y, but instead the theory of ‘why’ we use the tools we do, what benefits they bring to a team looking to build products and services for everyone to use.

There will always be new UX Design and Research tools. New methods, systems and approaches to how we work dictate that this progress is required. And while some are beneficial, understanding the Theory as to what the Tool actually does and how it might strengthen a proces will be invaluable for any Team. Design and Research Tools come and go but the Theory behind what we do lasts forever.