Design Philosophy

These are some of the design philosophies that guide my process. This journey is an accumulation of existing approaches (from design firms, professors, books) that I have adjusted, finetuned, and tweaked over the years. Notice how they overlap and contribute to one another.

Invisible Design

“Good designs fit our needs so well that [it] is invisible” – Don Norman

I believe that in many cases, the best design is that which makes our life better without us even realizing. Sometimes this means giving appropriate affordances, signifiers, and feedback to not leave room for user error.


A sticker on this trash can, for example, is an example of an affordance that leads to better user experience; no one has to struggle – even momentarily – to realize which way the trash can swivels. If used, invisible design principles could have made this a better product in the first place that didn’t require this solution.

Invisible design blends into a routine instead of requiring new behaviors. This means incorporating “infrastructure” – what loosely defines all the things (usually routine based) that people interact with at any time. Doors, boarding passes, chairs, etc.. In this case, the antithesis of invisible design: products/services that force users to adjust their behaviors. A new device to charge for example has a higher likelihood of failure (it’s why I stopped using my Fitbit).


I find it hard to describe the concept in truth because there isn’t a literal translation into English. Instead, I break it down into certain tenets.

Jugaad is an innovation philosophy that values maximizing the utility from any resource; frugal innovation. Simple ‘hacks’. Out of the box thinking for hyper-focused problems. Recycling. Upcycling. All of this is part of Jugaad.

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Jugaad is a form of design where cost is often used as the major constraint. Essentially, it is integral to avoid over-engineering a product or service.

At the same time, it is important not to let Jugaad innovation shield from an ultimate goal. To avoid the pitfalls of Jugaad, it is important to:

Trace Problems to their Roots

Find the goals behind the goals and the root problems instead of the symptoms. Trace a design prompt back and ask “why?” Take for example a project where I redesigned a pollution mask using Jugaad innovation principles. Had I stopped here, this pollution mask – although effective – would have hindered bigger picture innovation and problem-solving. This is where tracing the problem to its root comes into play:

  • Why are masks too expensive?
    • Redesign a mask with replaceable filters
  • Why do we need pollution masks?
    • To protect ourselves from the effects of air pollution
  • Why is there air pollution?
    • Crop burning, vehicular pollution, factory pollution, waste burning, etc.
  • Each tangent presents a new direction for impact innovation.

Inclusive and Universal Design

Design for the 100% by designing for the 1%. A better product/service can be attained by focusing on the outliers of any user segment. This is done through empathy. Putting oneself in the shoes of an extreme user-case is an invaluable design exercise. Try wearing monochromatic glasses and going through a red light. What does a red-light even mean? Or better yet: wear a blindfold and walk through a metro station.

Look at Veggie peelers or Sidewalk ramps for good examples of universal design.

There are hundreds of articles about this. I also think it’s one of the most important tenets of impactful design. I’ve noticed universal design plays a big role in environmental design, but it needs to be regarded with the same value in any case. In UI concepts, for example, I often test the product with elderly users.

The Lean Startup and “Going to the Gemba”

The Lean Startup emphasizes user discovery, which more often than not leads to problem discovery. It’s a form of going to the Gemba – immersing oneself in the market, shadowing customers, engaging with the problem, stepping in an employee’s shoes. It focuses on empathy. It focuses on truly understanding by going and doing.

Fail fast. Fail small. Repeat. I often get caught up in an idea, focus on building it out, and only then ‘launch’ it. When failure happens at this stage, time and energy are wasted. Instead, challenging an idea at its initial stage helps me realize when to pivot without too much at stake.

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Desire Paths, for example, are what happens without the Lean Startup. Instead of designing a solution for the user, solutions should be designed around the user.

One of the key takeaways I’ve learned: don’t let perfection get in the way of shipping. Instead, get a good-enough product out there and refine it through user-centric iterations. “Real artists ship” – Steve Jobs


“The fundamental interconnectedness of all things” – Steve Barth

Examine how everything is interconnected. Trend-based analysis helps in finding opportunities for innovation and future Blue Oceans through predictions and understanding of future markets. As an exercise, try taking a random trend and imagining its impact on the future of another product. For example, how can retail companies take advantage of the trend toward autonomous vehicles?

When I do trend analysis, a couple of things inform my thoughts:
I flip most of the articles I read into my Flipboard magazines. The categories and articles have evolved over the years along with my interests and curiosity, and as thousands of articles accumulate, my trend-based intuition, which I believe to be one of my strengths, grows.
For trend mapping, it helps to predict the mild, the wild, and the in-between. Sci-fi helps me with the wild. As a kid, I was obsessed with reading and writing sci-fi. It’s still a huge passion of mine, and I channel this when imagining wild-future case scenarios. It’s an exercise that, when used in moderation, helps broaden the mind to the bigger picture. Considering the wacky future ahead of us is also fun on its own.

Some of the things I thought about during 2018 are centered around a few obsessions, which you can see in my trend mind maps.

idea mindmap@2x

My Visual Process

My visual journey is a form of organized chaos. It starts with a single Google search that branches out into hundreds of Chrome browser tabs. A spark of curiosity is all it takes for my computer’s fan to run on overdrive.

I annotate articles, jot down and sketch ideas in my notebook, write stream-of-consciousness thoughts on Google Drive and bullet points on Google Keep. I keep an ever-evolving mind map on Adobe XD and an archive of many articles I read on Flipboard. Eventually, this blur in my mind coalesces in a Photoshop, Sketch, Illustrator, or another file. I only open these programs at a later stage to prevent software from inhibiting the flow of my thoughts.

This is a design process that consists of unconventional mood boards and constant outlets for curiosity. In the end, I’ve found it helps me to reflect on the journey. Then I start all over again.