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Friday, May 05, 2006

The problem with designers.

So, as a professional designer, I feel I can speak about a few problems that I think the "design world" is suffering from. And being the person I am, I am going to blog about it. This could be a bumpy read, so here is my disclaimer: I'm not talking about either myself or my boss in this article! These points are based on conversations with other designers and represent my point of view.

  • Designers are not any more capable of creating beauty than non-designers.
Often times, I am asked to hang decorations at a party or draw a quick poster for a local fund-raiser. Knowing that I am a designer by trade, they ask me what I think should be done. When I explain that whatever they like would probably be acceptable, they reply that they don't have an "eye" for that sort of stuff. They then request that I use my "magical designer sense" to create something beautiful.

We designers have done a great job at trying to convince everyone that we have a monopoly on aesthetic understanding. But, in actuality, something like a small party is not really about the decorations; it's about the person or event the party is for.

In my opinion, some of the most beautiful designs I've seen were simple expressions of love or admiration from a "non-designer" to someone special. And more often than not, I would suggest that the quality of those designs operated somewhat independently from reactions of the viewers and receivers. I.e. Even the most hideous design atrocities can bring joy to our lives.

  • Designers are not rock stars (contrary to the picture in a previous post)

There is a growing population of would be "rock star" designers. The fame and fortune of a few are twinkling in the eyes of an ever growing movement of creative professionals. This is not what design is about.

We as designers should be honestly and earnestly striving to make the lives of people more safe, comfortable, and beautiful. The moment our own egos get in between the people and our designs, we have a conflict of interests. How can we honestly be striving to understand end-user needs when, ultimately, our true desire is to want people to be more like ourselves?

  • Design is not a standalone solution.

Like the idealists we often are, we like to imagine that design can save the world, if you only give it a chance. Fortunately for us, designers do not rule the earth. The more I deal with engineers, marketers, researchers, lawyers, doctors, and so forth, the more I realize how design really is only a small piece of the greater puzzle.

It has been rather humbling for me to realize that if it weren't for those engineers (who I sometimes feel like they modify designs despite me) there would be no design opportunity at all.

Gone are the days when I thought that I could do it all myself. Designers only have jobs because everyone else does.

  • Its hard to be an old designer

The problem with being an old designer is two fold. First, when we are young in the design field we are open and willing to learn and understand style for what it is. As we gain experience and graduate into leadership positions, there is a danger in thinking that we are contemporary dictators of style.

Secondly, when we are experienced in design, our prestige can negatively influence the perceptions of our design. In the business world, this can be likened to the boss's "yes man." I would humbly suggest that even the worlds leading designers sometimes get it wrong. Sometimes, we think that just because they are our leading designers, they must have some understanding or knowledge that make what they say absolute.

I am not saying that old designer status is undeserved, because old designers really do have understanding and knowledge that surpasses our own. What I am saying is that young designers should not keep from asking questions or taking design lead's orders for granted. Good design always benefits from positive criticism and collaboration, regardless of the experience of the designers.


So there, I've gotten that off my chest. My basic message is that we designers really need to be honest with ourselves and our role in society. We are not elite, we are not as important as we think, and we don't know as much as we think. This is probably heresy to some, but I think that this realization will only benefit our designs in a most positive way.

Now I can relax...
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