An idea I always strive to keep in mind is that of Kaizen. I first heard about the concept of Kaizen from Whitney Hess’ presentation on Do It Yourself User Experience. Kaizen is Japanese for “continuous improvement” or “change for the better,” and was first coined by Masaaki Iami in his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success.
The original intent of the concept of Kaizen was to create an efficient and more humanized workflow in businesses. Kaizen is implemented in the workplace by asking all employees to continuously analyze their workflow, and to suggest any changes the company could enact to improve efficiency. This input is valuable because assembly line workers are the most knowledgeable about their work, and therefore the especially qualified to make suggestions on how to improve their performance. Their input is not only beneficial for the improvement of technical efficiency, but it also creates a heightened sense of community and involvement, by giving the workers a sense of participation and ownership within the company.
These principles of self-analysis and improvement don’t need to be restricted to inner-company workings. It can also be applied to the relationship between the company and its customers. In Whitney Hess’ talk, she mentions how companies should continuously attempt to improve their applications, based on feedback and usability testing. No application is perfect, and furthermore the needs of users are constantly changing. Kaizen can be implemented through small things, such as maintaining open communication with customers through a feedback form. By doing this the company will have a better understanding of the needs of its users, and they will feel like their input is valued, and the product will be improved.
Kaizen can also be applied to your own practices as a designer. Applying Kaizen to a design, be it is a website, logo, print ad, etc., can significantly improve the effectiveness of your creative process and the final result. Think about what you are working on at each moment – is it adding value to the design? Anything you add or subtract should improve the overall design of the project.
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
This is not to say that all design should be minimal, rather, all design should serve a purpose. “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” This quote from William Strunk Jr.’s Elements of Style, applies to design as well as writing. As designers, we are not indiscriminate embellishers; we should constantly strive to create concise designs. Perfecting efficient design won’t happen overnight. It takes time, effort, and continuous self-analysis to become the best designers we can be, and this self-examination and improvement is the essence of Kaizen. The path to excellence lies along continuous evaluation and improvement of our methods and practices. Complacency is the death of a designer.
There are many ways a designer can adopt Kaizen practices in their life in order to improve his or her skills. Paying attention to yourself and your process will help you to become a more efficient and concise designer. What makes you most productive, what gets you past designer’s block, how do you handle certain problems? These are all things we should be asking ourselves to better our process, and ourselves as designers. Besides continuous self- assessment, a designer should try to improve his or her self, and their design practice, by always continuing to educate themselves. This doesn’t just mean reading the latest ‘Top 10 jQuery Effects’ article, but learning about typographic rhythm, color theory, Gestalt Principles, psychology, cognitive science, and so on. If you know your weakness is typography, work on learning a bit each day. The best designers are the ones who are constantly learning new things, and address those things they struggle with.
I try to think about Kaizen every day. How can I improve this design? How can I be a better designer? How can I be a better person? If what I’m doing isn’t improving me – then what is it doing?