A good designer is an Emotional Polymath — what?

Polymaths span a significant number of realities.

Daniel Egger

1/28/20212 min read

Adding new significant value to people is possible if we immerse ourselves in their reality. This means reaching beyond our context and understanding different ways of experiencing the world. Exploring contexts that might initially seem strange is essential.

We logically understand that society is complex, composed of many 'realities within reality.' To simplify this, we filter and select certain people, places, and contacts. We create routines and rituals that allow us to navigate the complex environment. The consequence is a closed mental model with many biases.

Kenneth Craik, a remarkable Scottish psychologist, described these as a "small-scale model of external reality." Mental models represent simplified, predefined ways of decision-making, allowing us to react to similar situations before they arise. We create predefined synapses, ways of thinking, and categorization; a world of biases. For any process involving uncertainty and decision-making, it is crucial to cultivate conscious perception of our reality and surrounding assumptions.

Breaking out!

It is said that the future is about experiences, emotions, creativity, and new interactions. Achieving this requires stepping out of our comfort zone. Whether you are a UX or industrial designer, algorithm expert, or business strategist, we all create for people in different realities than our own. We must step outside and question.

To paraphrase Friedrich von Hardenberg, "the goal is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar." Practically, this means connecting with people unknown to us, learning, listening, and experiencing. We need to question critically, dig deeper, and train ourselves to perceive things intuitively and feel emotions.

Emotions are not negative. While researching emotions, some people claim they are "for women" or "a sign of weakness." However, designing for emotions is the main differentiator for the future. It empowers us to satisfy people on another level and identify plausible future solutions for businesses.

The future of design lies in emotions. The sad and the happy, trust, and the need for security. Any emotion felt by the people we design for should be respected and understood. By doing so, we gradually transform ourselves into an "emotional polymath" with new mental models about the world, going beyond our filtered reality.

Open-mindedness to create the future

When we talk about the future, many paths exist. Each is nonlinear and full of surprises. Walking these paths means shaping the future and remaining open-minded. Our values might be challenged, beliefs tested, and technology may create realities faster than imagined. We might argue and judge, ignore, and overvalue certain changes. But what we really should do is question and explore why those changes occur.

The future is not about ceteris paribus; it is about the relationship between different parts. Technological progress will transform beyond our imagination, but those who will experience these futures are (still) emotional humans with capabilities like creativity and intuition. Both are and will continue to grow in importance for designers, enabling us to connect with different segments of society.