3 Questions with Eric Karjaluoto

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Eric Karjaluoto

Eric Karjaluoto is CD of smashLAB

Eric Karjaluoto thinks the idea of being “creative” is getting in our way. The smashLAB creative director believes design is about discipline and that better design can be produced more consistently by employing methodology that moves the focus away from the designer and back to the client.

Want to learn why creatives shouldn’t bank on inspiration, worship “big ideas,” or treat design as a means of personal expression?

DESIGNSPEAKS and Design Week Portland are co-hosting Karjaluoto on October 6 for a noon talk on The Design Method: Using Process to Hack Design at 52 Limited (w/food provided by the lovely Merit Badge).




Does design differ from the process of making art?

Art is an explorative pursuit, in which the end result is often unknown. Design is a means of working towards a more defined outcome.

We confuse these two pursuits because artists and designers work with common materials. (So do statisticians and numerologists—but few would confuse one of these for the other.)

A designer isn’t on a personal journey. Instead, her job is to help a user do something, or to take an organization from one place to another.

Is inspiration an important aspect in your professional output?

No. Inspiration is a weird, mystical sort of notion that pins the designer’s success on external forces. Inspiration involves two key components: direction and enthusiasm. Both of which can be better achieved through other, and better, means.

Direction is best found by concentrating on the problem at hand. This sort of focus leads to insight or a suitable path forward. Meanwhile, enthusiasm comes from being deeply involved in the act of planning/building—and making progress.

Both of these are important parts of the design process, but they aren’t magical, or achieved in a happenstance way. They’re the result of thoughtful consideration and disciplined work habits.

Who are your favorite designers working right now?

I try to avoid looking up to other designers—in fact, I argue that the design industry places too much attention on celebrity. Design shouldn’t be about ego or personality. Design is about our clients and end users—and how we help them do what they want. So, I look more at things and experiences, and admire the ways they’ve been made to work.

For example, I like how animated elements add fidelity to interfaces (e.g. when a form field shakes to indicate an error). I appreciate how pragmatic work is increasingly winning-out over more decorative approaches. This results in cleaner, more intuitive experiences. I also love the idea of design becoming transparent—something we hardly notice, but just works.