Designing for yourself

We were recently discussing some quotes from Apple man Steve Jobs around the office, where he talked about his philosophy when it comes to design:

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

BusinessWeek, May 25 1998

So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “A faster horse.”‘

Steve Jobs

These are really insightful quotes, especially if you work in creating anything for a consumer mass market. The big point here is that you can and should design for users but you can’t expect users to tell you how to innovate. What you find when you read more about Apple’s ethos is that the big innovations in design come from when you design for yourself. Make something *you* would want to use.

There are big advantages to designing for yourself. As a designer for the web, I know my strongest designs come about when I fall directly into the main segment of the target audience. I immediately know when the design is solid, and I can easily justify design decisions when they are questioned.

Joshua Porter’s featured an article earlier this year entitled personas and the advantages of designing for yourself, which went into some detail about the use of personas (personae?) For those not in the know, personas are fictitious user profiles created to describe different typical users of a website. He talks about how this process is unnecessary when you are designing for yourself. In the end, it really just boils down to working on projects that you feel passionate about. Or at least (in my case) owning a part of a project for which you can develop a passion over. I think I’ll call this a “creative enthusigasm“.

I look forward to and really get into design projects where I am essentially designing something that is aimed to appeal to me, and that I have some level of ownership over. If I love the end product, then it would hopefully follow that there will be users out there who feel the same way.


  1. Yeah, good quotes. Love the Henry Ford one!

    Choosing clients is key in having some love and ownership of the project. Unfortunately, most clients that give you the freedom don’t have the budgets either.

  2. Thanks for the mention, Henry. I like how you point out that its easier to justify design decisions when you’re in the target audience:

    “I immediately know when the design is solid, and I can easily justify design decisions when they are questioned.”

    Since so much of design is justifying decisions, this is a really important point. Thanks for pushing the discussion further.

  3. Anton, agreed. Choosing clients is definitely the key, if you’re able to. And as Joshua mentions in his article, projects with which you maintain a long term relationship with are the best.

    Joshua, thanks, I’m glad I could contribute.

    Thanks for stopping by guys.

  4. Definitely one of my favorite quotes by Henry Ford. As for designing within your own target market, for me, it make the job much more enjoyable as well!