Nicole Fenton is the coauthor of Nicely Said. They design with words.

Scratching the Greatest Itch

I think of things that frustrate me as itches or burns, depending on the depth of my forehead wrinkles. I love these little itches. They teach me about my limits and places where I can do better. They sneak up on me like a sunburn, settle into my skin, weave through me for a while, and resurface as an idea for a blog post or suggestion to a client.

This is why I love swimming in the sea of design. I get burned by curiosities disguised as debate or my reactions to people around me. I find things worth thinking about beyond words on static pages. I get upset about the implications and particulars of language. I wonder how I can help and that’s the greatest itch.

I admit it: I find happiness in asking questions, knowing answers aren’t defined. Part of making something better is defining what it does, who it’s for, and why it is—in a language we can agree on within the confines of the project or strings of conversations. And that’s a good chunk of what I do—defining things and translating people’s needs so we can move toward our goals together. Because I believe we are neither magicians nor psychics. The value of our work depends on what we know about the problem and how well we can articulate that.

If we don’t take the time to listen, we fail. If we don’t want to ask questions that have complicated answers, we fail. That kind of laziness itches a bit and burns me. So I scratch it, here and there.