Designing with a purr-pose: Cat-inspired Lessons


Designing with a purr-pose: Cat-inspired Lessons


May 3, 2024

Lesson 1: Start with passion, plan with challenges in mind

The first time I had a design client, I accepted the project as soon as they described it to me over email. We met to discuss how interesting it would be for us to collaborate, and I had the chance to charm them with my Gemini charisma and a bunch of fancy design words. I calculated the time it would take me to create three logo proposals, with up to two rounds of feedback, and got myself organized to deliver everything on time. And nothing, absolutely nothing that I planned ended up happening. Especially the part about two rounds of iteration.

A couple of years later, I fostered my first kitten, Pimienta, and had a very similar experience that helped me better understand the mistakes I made with my first client. Driven by excitement, I had ventured into the journey planning solely based on the passion I felt. Yes, I had researched what the best food to give her was, but I never imagined she would refuse to eat it. Yes, I prepared a warm, comfortable place for her to sleep and even planned moments for us to cuddle together, but I never imagined she would spend all night biting my feet and all day sleeping on my computer keyboard.

I discovered that the dangerous side of loving what I do so much is letting myself get carried away by enthusiasm and the ideal version of the project in my imagination - whether it's about design or kittens - instantly obscuring the complexities and possible crises that may arise.

That's why at Indicius, we focus so much on our first meetings with prospects and clients, because it’s the perfect opportunity to shed light on our biggest concerns. We prefer to let ourselves get carried away by passion once we’ve deeply understood the challenges.

Lesson 2: Define products with the user in mind

By the time I took in another foster kitten, Trufa, I had researched the topic extensively. I wanted to be prepared to understand her physical and emotional needs. Among the purchases I made, the one I was most proud of was the scratching post: Nordic-industrial style and made with recycled wood. It was super aesthetic, economical, and also environmentally friendly. If Trufa had ever used it, it would have been perfect.

Something that I find very interesting about interacting with cats is the way they ignore instructions. You can teach them things, but only if they want to learn. They have their own interpretations of how things are used, which is why getting them toys is so similar to testing interfaces with users.

Today, it seems silly to consider explaining how to use a website to someone: if a website is friendly, intuitive, and meets their needs, the person won't need instructions. The same goes for cats and scratching posts. However, when Trufa started scratching the sofa, I went through the frustrating stage of trying to teach her to use the scratching post I had bought her.

Trufa had no notion of "aesthetic," "economical," or "environmentally friendly"... that’s all human nonsense. Trufa only cared about finding something vertical to scratch that would grip her claws well, which the sofa provided.

When we choose products for our cats - or design for humans - we can follow best practices and recommendations... and end up succeeding or failing in equal measure. The key is in observing and understanding behaviors, in order to plan out effective solutions.

That's why at Indicius, we have services like the Brand Narrative Workshop or Voice of Customer Research, which serve precisely to set expectations and define direction, usually making it so that our clients don't need to scratch our sofa.

Lesson 3: Build a system, not just a process

Thinking about projects chronologically is a trap, one that our minds fall into more often than not. Research, design, deliver to the client. Receive a kitten, host it for a few days, find it a home. If you think about all the paths a project could take - even though it’s impossible to cover all of them - you start to see that these processes are immersed within a system that contains them. It’s thanks to that system that processes can be flexible, and emergencies resolved.

As I prepared for the adventure of fostering, I checked which reputable veterinary clinics were near my house and noted down three. I thought that would be enough, until I needed to go one night during a holiday, and none of the options I had were open at those times. The problem wasn't my process - looking for veterinarians - but that the system was deficient and based on linear thinking. Ideally, I should have noted down options with different hours, at least one that was open 24 hours, vets with different equipment, and someone who makes house calls. I got medical attention in time for Milanesa, the kitten I was fostering at the time, but obviously, it was much more difficult and stressful than it would have been with a good system in place.

With design processes, something similar happens. When we create a project roadmap, we document the events that must occur for the project to progress, such as feedback sessions and allocated days for iteration. Since we have a good system, we schedule - even if discreetly - all the steps to follow in the case that the iterations are more complex than anticipated or if some type of inconvenience arises.

Don Norman says, "Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good design fits our needs so well that the design is invisible," and I believe that the same thing happens with our co-creation processes at Indicius. We have processes designed to meet needs, but we know when we should skip them and be flexible in order to manage exceptional situations. And maybe you’ll never know that all that was also designed.

Lesson 4: Healthy processes, healthy goodbyes

Saying goodbye says as much about a bond as each day you spent together. However, sometimes we don't realize how much we become attached to a kitten until the moment we let it go and understand that we no longer have a shared routine. And it doesn't matter if it was an affectionate kitten like Trufa or a nocturnal hunter like Pimienta, it always, always leaves us with cherished memories and countless lessons. I liked taking some time to myself between one kitten and the next, to process calmly and prepare for the next adventure.

When we close a design project, something similar happens. In some, everything flows smoothly, while other bring numerous challenges along the way. That's why when it’s time to package and deliver a project, it always brings us a lot to reflect on. However, daily life often doesn't give us free time between one project and another to process at our own pace. That's why it's extremely important to create and maintain spaces to reflect on each project.

At Indicius, we hold retrospective meetings and implement changes in processes and roles based on what we learn. Thanks to that, we grow and evolve from all collaborations with our clients. Especially the most challenging ones.

Closing thoughts

If I reflect on all the experiences I've had with kittens over the years, there's bound to be a connection with design and its processes in each one. However, taking a step back from the day-to-day and delving deeper, I've come to realize that the most significant lesson - and commonality between these two realms - is approaching my professional life with the genuine intent of making a positive impact on others.