designing ebooks and other fun things


Ask a designer: in someone else’s shoes.


This post is part of the Ask a Designer series. You ask me questions, I answer them to the best of my ability. The questions can be about design process, branding, software, technical things – or even completely unrelated. Want to play? Leave me a comment here, or use the contact form.



I can’t imagine being able to put myself in someone else’s shoes to capture their creative vision. How do you do that?

by SilverMagpies


Actually, the secret is that there is no secret.

I don’t put myself in someone else’s shoes.

I keep my own shoes at all times, which — paradoxical though it may seem — allows me to not only see their vision, but to be able to translate it to others.
I’m a translator of that creative vision, whichever language it’s communicated in. I am good at listening and watching, even when I don’t quite understand — yet. (Finding yourself in a foreign country at the age of 15 with not one single person who speaks your language teaches that skill more effectively than any course ever could.)
Listening for nuances and details, watching for other perspectives and twists, constantly on the lookout for something that seems less important than it actually is — or vice versa. It’s not a very clear process, but I know that the essence I am trying to capture will come into focus eventually. It always does.
This is why my process always starts with rough concepts and ideas. Some tentative steps in the right direction, exploring the ideas — not the style, not yet. (But more on this in my next answer.)

Trying to find the meaning is what brings forward the meaning. There is always a moment when it begins to take shape. Like the old-fashioned photos being developed from a negative, slowly but surely a crystal-clear snapshot begins to form from a blurry mess of colors and shapes.

I live for that moment.

This snapshot is usually not someone’s entire creative visions. Creative visions are rarely that clear and defined. But it’s a representation of it, a clear and accurate one. A piece that they easily recognize and relate to, and get excited about. Because it does represent that vision, the essence of it, in an instantly recognizable way.

And, more importantly, it’s something that others can recognize and relate to.

There is a metaphor I used in a not-so-recent post about choosing gift-wrapping paper that is somewhat relevant here. The process is very similar. I don’t have to become the other person to choose a gift, or a wrapping paper, that they will love. I just have to know and understand them well enough. (It also helps that I have an unbelievably good memory for details.)
Also, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is only one possible “right” choice, only one perfect gift, only one possible interpretation. Usually, there are quite a few possibilities.

My specialty is finding the ones that work best both for the person with the creative vision AND the people they are trying to reach.

2 Comments on this Post.

  1. Ah Lisa –

    What a glimpse into your magical world! So interesting and quite honestly not what I expected, but it makes perfect sense.

    Despite your claim that there is no secret, there is still magic :~)

    • lisa

      You know, I had a feeling that it wasn’t what you expected to hear.
      Still, I think we all have abilities that seem magical to others — but come naturally to us. That is one of mine.
      And these abilities become even more magical when honed by practice. Needless to say, I practice that particular skill every single day.

      I’ll go along with you though; always wanted to have magical powers! :)

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