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Playful Critique

An excerpt from Creative Acts for Curious People on judgment-making

Stanford designer and educator Thomas Both once said to me, “The job of a designer is to develop and drive forward an ambitious vision for the future and to obsess over every small detail along the way.”

Of course, this is nearly impossible. You almost never feel like you’re doing both perfectly well at the same time. But at the Stanford, we help people consciously shift between different modes; tackling one piece at a time. In any design project, there are times when you expand the number of ideas you’re working with, and times when you converge on just a few to keep developing. Moments to invoke your bias toward action, and moments to slow down and reflect. Phases to plan the path toward immediate impact, and others to envision the long-term effects of what you’re creating with care and consideration for how that might ripple in the world. We call this constant toggling back and forth by a range of names, including “designing your design work,” or “being mindful of process.” And this meta-skill becomes indispensable in taking control of your own creative process, as well as bringing others along in creative collaborations.

Throughout these shifts, you make countless decisions. Whose needs are you designing for? What skills does your team require? Which prototypes are going to keep refining? When is your solution ready to launch? In design work, most of those decisions are judgment calls. There aren’t easy or obvious right answers when creativity or innovation is involved. You must navigate a lot of ambiguity.

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