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Do Designers Need to Be Industry Experts?

There are times when a business needs design work done, but balks when considering the specific industry expertise of the designer in question. A designer can have a shelf full of awards and a resume as long as a boat, and still get passed over on a job by a yo-yo company, if he’s never designed a yo-yo company logo before. Do designers have to be industry experts?

What we’ve discovered is that a designer who’s considered an expert can sometimes be a liability to a project. You’d never expect that to happen! A designer who has a lot of industry experience from their tenure at a company can bring a lot of “that’s not the way we do things” baggage to newer projects. You can see how that would lead to stagnation (not innovation).

The Relationship Between Design and Subject Matter

A company is not an industry. Every company handles everything differently from each other. This includes companies within the same industry. This is how companies gain their competitive advantage and how clients makes decisions about who they do business with.

A designer’s role is to solve problems by communicating to your user base through design. Your role is to be the expert on your subject matter and what you’re trying to accomplish. No matter how much time a designer spends in an industry, they’re never going to understand your problem as well as you do.

The designer’s job is to know people, but you know your problem. As designers, we should be tapping into your knowledge to get as educated as we can. To that point, designers rely on subject matter experts to fill design gaps. They’ll need you to help them understand the nuances between your company and someone else’s company, within the same industry.

Pants: A User’s Journey

For example, we put our pants on one leg at a time. If we did two legs at a time, we’d fall over and bang our heads. This simple, daily action illustrates that all users are the same. They have a shared expectation of how things should work. That includes software. Designers should want to exceed that expectation for you, to get the job done. Once a solution is found, a designer works with you, the subject matter expert, to maintain the standards of your industry.

The Curse of Knowledge

On the other hand, there’s also “the curse of knowledge.” When you have a certain level of knowledge about your industry, it’s easy to assume your users have the same level of expertise. Often, people are at different levels of education or training. Not every user knows exactly what they’re doing.

Consider your most-hated software that you have to use on a regular basis. It has “the curse.” It assumes you know how and why things are being done the way they are. Therefore, it drops you into the program without any useful context for its user. Software that’s efficient, intuitive, and, frankly, just gets the job done, knows what its users behaviors are. That outweighs the industry in question, in favor of the user. Subject matter experts are there to meet the needs of the industry as they come up in a user-focused design.

Of course, you’ll save a lot of time and effort that you’d use educating or training a user if you have an excellent design. We’ve seen users learn brand new systems and redesigned products with minimal effort, as long as the software works as expected.

Design for People

Always design for people, not for industries. A piece of construction software design for offsite management of workloads is actually similar to a piece of film software that sets up a live production. They’re both management and resource tools, whether you’re depending on building supplies arriving at a certain location or camera arriving at a certain location. What is the best way to accomplish the task? Don’t let the curse of knowledge drive the interface.

To sum it up, designers are always learning. Maybe they’re looking at what’s hot in the app store. Maybe there’s a new piece of tech everyone is talking about. They could be learning about bleeding edge interactions and interfaces. Sometimes, that means they’re even learning about your industry. They want to learn about the new and best ways to deliver good experiences to the user.

Tap into that! Your designer will know what the best design methods are to solve your problem for your users! (And, if this sounds like something you need, that’s when you have an agency like Rocksauce Studios come in and help you out!)

So, how can you get great design for your company? Give Rocksauce Studios a call at 866-981-6847 or send us an email at We help our customers design and launch solutions that people will actually use.