It is easy for designers to forget the massive implications their decisions make. The current state of experience design, especially in the United States, is becoming worrisome for this reason. Startup culture fueled by venture capitalist motives, the fetishization of documentation, focus on profit and speed, and new methodologies aimed at continuous learning but so easily bastardized into a hyper-design and speed-driven technique are contributing to the erosion of reflection and contemplation in experience design. Experience designers work with mostly intangible design solutions (experiences), and I’m not convinced we have taken the time to understand the implications of designing an experience. I hope this book will make a small contribution to that project in setting up some key questions around how to design experiences that meet design goals, but also maintain some sort of equilibrium between human and non-human actants. Much of this effort depends on how we talk about the problem. As Heidegger states, “It is language that tells us about the nature of a thing, provided that we respect language's own nature. In the meantime, to be sure, there rages round the earth an unbridled yet clever talking, writing and broadcasting of spoken words. Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.”
Designer intent has always been a problematic topic in the experience design world. Some experience designers have latched on to the idea that “design is the rendering of intent” as a grounding for understanding their work. While this definition is true, it is also overly simplistic and misleading. All design involves intent, but the role intent plays is much more complex than any pithy statement. It’s like saying the sky is blue: of course it is true, but it doesn’t deal with the complexity of the situation. Sometimes the sky is different colors; it is black at night, orange at sunset, grey when overcast with clouds. So while design in general is the materialization of a designer’s intent, as we saw in the previous examples of scripts, this only accounts for a very small part of design under the guise of explaining any and all design, and is therefore of little use. The main problem, I believe, is how we talk about intent. It is easy to discuss the role of intent in design and conclude that if the designer wants a certain outcome, they will design the means by which those outcomes occur. And while this view is completely valid, it ignores everything that happens after the design solution is created—namely, its success according to the original goals and any user-driven interactions that were not part of the designer’s intention. So intent is important, but we must also consider its limitations.
Intent is more than simply wanting something to happen and taking steps to encourage a certain outcome. The word “intent” has roots in a few languages, mostly Latin, where it can be taken literally to mean “stretch out,” “lean toward,” or “strain.” The verb form “intend” literally means “to stretch toward” or “to direct one’s attention to.” We get the sense that intention deals with orienting oneself toward a future object or future state—leaning towards it, stretching out to reach it, and directing all attention toward it. It is not difficult to see how the entire design process can be seen as the practice of intention; a designer examines a problem space, comes to a solution, and takes steps to map out the specific means of making his or her intention materialize in the world. Within this process, designers experience many of the phenomena discussed in chapter 3: the idea that forethought guides the design process—where designers are so constantly oriented toward a future state that they use abductive thinking to imagine what could be according to their intention—and that throughout the entire process they are orienting themselves completely toward the design solution. But again, this view only describes the process of design itself and ignores everything afterwards. I believe that a rich design theory needs to consider not only the design process itself but also the effects of design.