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"The Best Design Advice I Ever Got" with Dan Saffer

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Dan Saffer, author of Designing for Interaction and internationally-recognized leader in interactive design, spent years looking for that elusive "special sauce" that makes great designers great. What he eventually realized took a lot of hard work, deep thinking, and trial and error.
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Dan Saffer

Job Experience:

Director of Interaction Design, Smart Design

Most Notable Achievement

Writing three books is my greatest accomplishment, especially my first: Designing for Interaction


The best design advice I ever got was from Marc Rettig. Marc is not only an interaction designer from back before anyone ever called themselves that, but he's also wise. As a new designer, I was stymied by the fact that my designs weren't anywhere near as good as those I saw around me. There had to be some secret sauce, I was sure. One of the reasons I went to Carnegie Mellon for graduate school in design was to get that special knowledge that I was sure people who'd been trained as designers (from birth, I imagined) had. I naively assumed that brilliant designs flowed from good designers, just like (supposedly) Mozart cranked out brilliant symphonies in his sleep.

Marc set me straight. Here's his advice: "No one gets it right the first time." No one gets it right the first time. When I heard those words, the resonance was like a deep bell had sounded in me; it was so freeing. Great products don't spring from great designers like Athena from the skull of Zeus; instead, they were usually the result of a lot of trial and error, missteps and blind alleys, and hard work and deep thinking. There's no secret sauce. Great designers aren't those with the most natural talent, or the smartest, or can draw the best. Great designers are those who've designed great products, period. And the only way to design those is the hard way. And while you might have a vision of how the product should be right from the start, it takes a lot of work to get it right. You have to explore. You have to prototype. You have to test. You have to see it live. You have to see someone using it. Only then do you get a refined design. No one gets it right the first time.

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