How many designers favourite subject was math?

Did you show your work in math class or spend your time doodling in the margins?

Just like in high school math class it’s about more than just the right answer: it’s about how you got there.


Do you remember being 16 years old sitting in your high school math class? What was the number one rule? Show your work. Math class teaches us to be critical and detail oriented – very helpful design skills. Just as how you show your work and get to the answer in a math test: you should show your design work (in progress) with your team or client.

Go one step further and work with your client by your side. Show your work early and often. Let your client see the pencil, and more importantly, the eraser marks. Your high school teacher gave you more marks for showing your work than for getting the correct answer, your client will certainly see the value as well. While design is not a dogmatic mathematical formula, it ought to follow a pragmatic and logical process.

Read the question carefully

How long until the train arrives at the station? Just how many watermelons can you fit into an apartment building? How can we make it easier for students to register for this class online? What could I do to make this file management software to be more pleasant to use?

Our design problems are more complicated with more moving pieces than the problems we solved in high school but the idea is the same. You need to really understand the problem as well as how it affects the business and the users before you try to solve it. Make sure you understand what you’re being asked.

Gather your information and list your unknowns

Or variables, as my math teacher liked to call them. X = 74, Y = 3. Gather business knowledge and strategic direction from your client and outline what you don’t yet know about your users. Then go find out what you can. User research helps to solve some of the unknowns. There will always be unknowns in design, our job is to mitigate the risks with evidence and collaboration.

Designer, show your work

Then you start. Invite your client to sit next to you as you solve the problem together. Unlike with a math problem, there is no one right answer in design. Showing your work to your clients as you work on it demonstrates the value of the process. Any glaring errors can be solved quickly and efficiently. Let your client see where you made changes, let them ask you why you did it.

Perhaps you forgot to carry the one, or you need to know which e-commerce platform they operate on. Showing all your work-in-progress to your client as you create it speeds up the review at the end.

Double check

Of course, don’t forget to review your work. Informal reviews throughout are easy when the client is involved right from the start but at some point your work needs to be double checked and graded.

No matter how well you think you’ve done the only thing that matters is how your design stacks up in testing. User feedback helps you (and your client) learn how to improve the design.

Don’t ask your audience to just accept your results, involve them in the process

The skills you learned in your high school math class can help make you a better designer. Attention to detail, critical analysis, and showing your work as you go along are all part of the design process. With this kind of transparency and collaboration your projects will run more smoothly and your clients will thank you for it.

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