Is good design the only discipline?

In the 1990's, when I first started working in digital, or the information superhighway as it was referred to back then, things were pretty straightforward; user interactions were limited to what the website owner wanted the user to do, there was no UGC, no smartphones or tablets, no social media and CMS' were hugely expensive closed source monsters that few used. I wouldn't say it was boring, because it was truly exciting to be there for the birth of an industry, but it was frustrating.

In the Stone Age of the Internet, things tended to either be over-designed or over-engineered, with the poor user on the receiving end just having to make due. The limitations of the technologies we were working with were not due to any fundamental design faults, but simply because the Internet was never designed to be the commercial beast that it is now.

The trouble is that even though technology and design practices have moved on significantly, the digital landscape for those entering the industry is now a very confusing place and probably just as frustrating, albeit for different reasons, then when I entered it.

The myriad of different ways to create a digital presence are mind boggling and somehow the many disciplines that compete for supremacy in the digital landscape need to stop competing and start collaborating if we have any hope of maturing anytime soon. The plethora of labels and acronyms for the different approaches to design - UX, UCD, HCI, accessibility, usability, inclusive, universal, responsive, interaction and UI, to name a few - are all pieces of the same puzzle and all need to be tools in all of our arsenals. They all need to be brought together and take their appropriate pride of place on the mantle of good design.

It is counterproductive for one discipline to compete with another, when no two projects and no two users are ever the same. Unlike in the days of old when we understood little about how people actually interacted with what we created, we now have the ability to deliver good design and the responsibility to do so. In an ideal world, we would apply all of the different principles appropriately to each and every project, but in the real world most of us are working to briefs, budgets and timelines that restrict our ability to do so.

This does not necessarily mean that we need to pick one over another, but that we need to understand all of the best practices, to use intelligence, to be discerning and to employ the appropriate practices judiciously. After all, good design has purpose, so let our purpose be creating good design.

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