Defeating The Trickster: A Design Tale

The Classics will have you believe that The Trickster is a cunning and mischievous creature, possibly a fox. Perhaps a million years ago, in the Dark Ages, The Trickster was indeed a sly and foxy character. But, we live in modern times, and in these modern times, The Trickster often masquerades as the one we call… Design.


If you are a designer, it is likely that the question “So, what do you do?” leaves your palms sweating and eyes darting towards exit signs, while your mind calculates alternate escape routes. How can this benign and simple question reduce well-respected professionals to a sweaty, blabbering and boring mess?

Let’s use a fictitious example: you are at a fun party, and a stranger approaches you and starts to chat…

Stranger A: Hey, I’m Fictitious Stranger A. So, what do you do?

You: Hey, Fictitious Stranger A. I’m a designer

Stranger A: Cool! Do you have a favourite colour? What are the new colours for The Year of The Dog? Can I Instagram this?

You: Actually, I’m not a graphic designer. I’m not really all that good with colours really. Maybe beige…

Stranger A: Oh. OK [puzzled]. So, if you don’t do colours, what do you design?

You: I design products that people will want to buy

Stranger A: Oh, like furniture?

You: No, more like apps

Stranger A: Oh, cool! You’re an app designer. I have an app idea…

You: Well, I’m not exactly an app designer…

Stranger A: …skulks away, avoiding eye contact for rest of the party

What is Design?

Design is a fairly overloaded word. It can mean the perfect shade of blue glazing on a piece of crafted Japanese pottery. It can refer to the clever hooks on which to hang your winter coat on the Arlanda Express in Stockholm. It can also refer to the way in which we can affect change in the world by having the courage to live the life that we were perfectly designed for.

Whoa. What does courage have to do with design?

Actually, a lot. By its very definition, Design represents change. There is no need to design something if it already exists, so it follows that design is the deliverer of change.

The trickster openly questions and mocks authority

Yet as humans, we are hardwired to resist change. Fundamental changes in life are often precipitated by existential crises. Smaller change is equally resisted: think about your reluctance to try something different on the menu of a frequented restaurant; or the magnetic attraction of revisiting known holiday destinations again and again; the inertia associated with switching from an iPhone to an Android, or indeed, with breaking any existing brand loyalties that you harbor for your most prized material possessions. Changing the status quo takes courage. Mistakes can be made. Jobs can be lost. The Wrong Colours can be picked. The Trickster playfully invites us to start a dance with change.

Knowing where to start

The starting point can often be a source of confusion, one that ties right back to the difficulty of defining the term “design”. Let’s say you have a great idea for an app… would you start by engaging a Marketing Agency? A Design Agency? A UX Designer? An App Developer? An Advertising Agency? A Web Dev Agency? Would you try to have a crack at doing all these various things on your own, and if so, where would you start?

Deconstructing the confusion

Part of the reason why it’s hard to know where to start is that there is a large degree of crossover between these tangential disciplines. Of course, Marketing is not the same at UX design, and that is not the same as Web Development – each discipline has very different metrics and goals.

The confusion is hidden at the point where these disciplines crossover – the Client Brief

The Client Brief has various components, but at its heart is a description of the WHAT and WHY that represents the app idea that you ultimately want to bring to market. The challenge in working with these disparate disciplines is that each discipline or agency develops their own version of your Client Brief. This inadvertently has two consequences

  1. It’s expensive and inefficient, as you are paying to have very similar work done by each agency; and more importantly
  2. Each agency’s brief will introduce micro-differences, which taken together can easily lead your original project down an unintended path.

The One Brief

The commonalities between UX Design, Product Design, Service Design, CX Design, Marketing and Advertising lie at the starting point for each discipline. Before a marketing plan can be created, or an advertising strategy planned, or wireframes sketched out, the goals of the project need to be articulated.

The way in which this is done varies for each discipline: UX Designers use tools such as user interviews, and observe potential customers using products and wireframes; marketing specialists may look at analytics that underpin consumer behaviour on the internet; and advertising experts may run focus groups and create archetypes and personas that represent the values and personality of the brands they will promote.

The tools employed by specialists in each discipline are slightly different, but, they all have a unifying core: the WHY. Whether we use ethnographic research, or run analyses on button click-throughs, or use post campaign recall testing, the end goal of all these methods is to arrive at the (correct) reason why a future customer will love – and thus buy – the product or service or app that you want to bring to market.

Creating a single brief that could be handed to each specialist, whether it be Marketing, or UX Design or Advertising may just be the way to beat The Trickster.

Do you think that creating a single brief as a starting point for a new technology project is a good idea? Where do you see the challenges in this approach? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments below?