Critical Thinking as a Powerful Learning Tool
Web designers are constantly learning and evolving. The web design community, relative to other professional communities, is young and hungry to learn. These are — more often than not — great characteristics of an industry that strives to progress and innovate.
However, being young and being hungry for knowledge also fuels unfair snap judgments about the value of the work and learning material being put out there. So often, I see a new blog post or news story that results in a polarized debate instead of an informative conversation that can push an idea forward.
But if we step back and critically think about what’s being shared to us, we can have an opportunity to really learn something new or take what’s being shared and improve upon them.
We are lucky to work in a profession where information is so easily available to us. Likewise, the ability we all have to spark discussion among our peers is unrivaled.
We can all benefit from a healthy discussion where all parties involved provide their opinion, their reasoning, and their experience. What a great opportunity this can provide for us to learn from each other and gain insight from someone else’s experience. But unfortunately, that’s not always how things go.
Great examples of this are the recently fueled discussions around simulating real-world user interfaces. Around the web, we are seeing a call to arms of sorts to the realization that flashy Photoshop work and mimicking real-world interfaces don’t always translate into the most usable solution on the web.
As a result, we see parties on either sides of the fence.
But what we all need to realize is that most of these fences have a gate on them and the entire design community is free to pass from one side to the other.
Most often, these topics are brought up to encourage us think in a different manner, not to polarize the issue and take sides on.
You’ll Find What You Seek
Designers who are always seeking the next big thing will inevitably find it. We see these people constantly reinventing themselves and overhauling the type of designer they are.
Old methods are discarded as obsolete instead of seeing them through and trying to expand them.
The key to finding the best solution to a problem is to view the problem from as many angles as possible. If you are struggling to find a solution, it’s because you may have dismissed it in the past as something that was not relevant to you at the time.
The designer who reads and engages in the community in order to seek enlightenment and new ideas while maintaining an active respect for tried-and-true solutions can expand on their ability to apply a wide array of potential solutions to a given problem. For this type of designer, bookmarking tools, RSS feeds, and reading lists provide references instead of copy-paste solutions.
A New Approach to Problem-Solving
Instead of starting out a project saying "What a great opportunity to try this new technique!", we can ask instead, "Looking at the problem I’m trying to address, have I learned anything in the past that can help me develop the most appropriate solution?"
Shifting the way we learn and grow as designers will change the approach we take in creating new designs. Instead of looking for the next big thing or the next big trend, a designer should be able to look back at what they have learned in the past when a problem is presented. This way, we are building solutions for an issue that is real and we are able to process the techniques we’ve learned into real knowledge.
Knowing When to Go Forward
We are often subject to getting caught up in the hype of the latest trend in web design. When everyone is talking about responsive design or the Mobile Web, an overly enthusiastic designer will often be itching for an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon because it’s easier and more convenient to follow the trend, instead of creating it.
It’s natural to want to apply the things we learn wherever we can, even if sometimes it’s not the best or most appropriate solution.
Practicing the latest trends and techniques is a great and practical way to get familiar with these new things, but it can also cloud our judgment when it comes to active projects.
While working on a project, it’s important to take a few steps back and apply an objective thought process to whether what we have recently learned really has a place in a project or not.
A great way to scratch the itch of fresh knowledge is to apply it to a personal sandbox environment. Many designers will dedicate a portion of their personal site to playing around with the new things they learn. This way, we can expand our knowledge and hone our new skills without disrupting real projects.
A good designer should always keep in mind that paid projects aren’t primarily for practicing our newfound skills on.
The Importance of Critical Thinking
Knowledge from those who have more (or different) experiences in our field is an invaluable way to grow as a designer.
However, no single idea should be taken as the new gospel of design. Questioning new ideas, providing an alternative view, and building on existing ideas make the entire web design community stronger.
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About the Author
This was published on May 11, 2011