Supereight Studio Logo

JournalNotes & Thoughts

Trust Your Gut Instinct

Matt Hamm

This is a talk I gave for “Smashing Borders” – SmashingConf Oxford 2014 Warm Up Party

Trust your gut. Trust your instinct. You are the design professional. Because more often than not your gut will be right.


Make mistakes

When I first started out as a designer I made plenty of mistakes and it isn’t until you’ve made those mistakes that you’ll become more intuitive. Intuition is based on our ability to recognise patterns and interpret cues.

More experience counts

The more experience you have as a designer, the better these design decisions will be. Gut Instincts are learned, and these instincts are learned by paying attention to the details in the world around us.


Subconscious Mind

According to a study by the University of Alberta, when we make decisions our subconscious mind is much more mind blowing than you think. A lot of creative decisions that we make as design professionals are based on things that we are not really aware of. The subconscious mind is very powerful indeed.

Design intuition

Have you have been given a design brief and quickly knocked out a design not really fully thinking through your design decisions? Then once you’ve had time to mull over the complexity of the problem and attempted to make more logical design decisions based on data it becomes harder to accomplish and invariably not quite as good as the first shot. Have you ever made lots more design iterations or concepts considering more in-depth problems and just gone back to the first one that you made?

Hillman Curtis

I once had the privilege to chat with the late Hillman Curtis. He said that when he designed the Yahoo! homepage, which was one of the most visited webpages of all time, they provided him with reams of user statistics on which shade of blue was best to use for links.

This was design by data which typically makes things look and feel bad. It’s design by mass committee. It never works.

Hillman’s reasoning for using the particular shade of blue that he used for links was just because HE liked it and it felt right.

That’s design based on instinct, it works. We need to trust the designers instinct. Trust your instinct.

Data vs Design instinct

These days analytics measures the effectiveness of every single design decision that we make.

In future perhaps the designers role will no longer be required. As engineering and design merge more on the web we need make decisions with a good balance of data and instinct.

It’s essential to do user research and see the world through the users eyes. Yet user research is really just another stream of data. Yes. Let’s Use A/B testing, it’s useful, but only for making small and tactical improvements, rather than a basis for all design decisions.

Don’t send a design you are not happy with

If you’ve got a design concept to show to the client or your boss for approval and something doesn’t feel quite right, then it’s probably wrong. Trust your own instinct and spend more time making sure the design feels right before you seek feedback. Only when you are 100% satisfied with your work should you send it out for review by anybody else. How are you going to win those design reasoning battles if not?

New Clients

At Supereight we increasingly make important decisions about taking on new clients based entirely on a gut feeling.

If the first email contact or Skype conversation rings any alarm bells or makes us feel like that client *could* be nightmare to work with, we turn it down, regardless of how much money they have or how cool the project seems.


Don’t ignore your gut feelings

Most of the time we may use a more traditional informed by data decision-making process, but we shouldn’t ignore our own instinctual gut feelings as part of that process.

Let’s always design with data in mind, but NEVER let it rule what we do or how we do it.

Comments via Twitter