The designer as an alchemist of the process

© Bill Oxford

It is common to say in design, especially in the user experience (UX) discipline, that there are no magic formulas that work for all projects, especially when we talk about the design process associated with each challenge. Talking about design is talking about process, this is an unquestionable truth. If there is one thing that distinguishes design from art (a discussion almost as old as the discipline itself), it is its clear awareness of the process of reaching a certain solution for solving a specific problem.

If design is a process and there are no magic formulas for solving each project, does that mean that the designer should have some responsibility for the design of the work process itself? The answer to this question can vary according to the personal opinions of each professional, but in the true and widest conception of design, the one I believe in, the answer can only be “yes, of course, without a shadow of a doubt!”.

Different challenges, different processes

Along with the process and its importance for design, the context is also an idea very dear to the discipline. The context of each challenge, the context of each business, the context of each person, are absolutely fundamental pieces for the creation of the solutions that design is the protagonist. Without this, we run the risk of simply talking about a piece of art, capable of arousing emotions, but lacking in purpose, because it does not correspond to any specific context.

This means that the context can and should not only influence the solution itself, but also the way to get there, the process itself. According to each challenge, it is important to be able to discern the best way to get there. In each case, the teams, customers, business objectives, tools, budgets, calendars and much more are different and this necessarily means that the design process must be thought out specifically for each case.

Of course, from one project to another, there are approaches and tools that can be recycled and adapted, but that cannot mean a “plate 5” design process that is always applied in the same way, seeking to obtain results. many different.

The alchemist designer

This is not good news for designers. In addition to building new and innovative solutions for each challenge for each project, we also have to worry about what process we are going to use in each case. On the other hand, as a matter of fact, this is also what distinguishes design from many other disciplines of knowledge. Your awareness in the design of your own work processes.

While we know that there are no magic formulas, the imagery of chemistry and alchemy can be equally very useful in illustrating the designer’s role in process design. Each process has to be designed. In fact, in many cases, it can be said that it is the process itself that defines much of the project’s success or failure, insofar as bad approaches usually lead to bad solutions or in many ways out of step with their contexts and objectives.

In other words, the magic formula for the success of each project is the process itself and this is where the “alchemist designer” comes in. It is up to the designer, who knows multiple strategies, methodologies, methods and tools, to define the procedural formula for each project. Mixing a series of ingredients and fine-tuning the formula over time, ie the project. By the time the formula capable of solving each challenge in the best way is discovered, half the work is done.

It is important to clarify that the formula for each project is not found in theory. It is the result of an evolutionary work throughout the entire project, which starts from a pre-defined idea, but as you mix the ingredients in your daily practice, you discover what can work better or not.

It is a work of patience and perseverance by the “alchemist designer” of the process. We are not looking for the magic formula that converts all things to gold, but the best approach for the context and process of each project.

Infinite formulas

Each new project is an opportunity to build new process formulas. More than creating products or images, the designer may also have the responsibility to think from the ground up for his own work formula, in relation to the particular context of each challenge. Copying formulas is never a good solution. Due to the multiplicity of challenges that we may have to meet, the day will come when that formula we have always used will no longer do. It is at this moment that we will need more than ever the “alchemist designer” of the process.

Read and share more about at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ruben Ferreira Duarte

Ruben Ferreira Duarte


Hi. My name is Ruben Ferreira Duarte and I am a portuguese UX/UI Designer, currently living in Lisbon (Portugal).