Get Out of Design

The glowing Macs that lit up my classmates faces accentuated the bewildered looks they were giving me.

I had just entered the classroom and had dropped the previous class’s textbook and overflowing stack of papers onto the table. It wasn’t the book that caused the looks, but the title prominently slapped across the cover — Monopoly and Public Policy.

Their bewilderment was understandable. I was entering the third year of my design degree and had recently decided to attempt a double major by adding economics. On the outside, it seemed foolish. Why waste my time with it? I’m a designer with no intention of pursuing economics after I get the degree. How would a designer benefit from reading Smith, Friedman, and Keynes?

You can even say economically that it was foolish to add a pointless degree Since the hours I spent reading some economic studies was time taken away from learning design and finding my own voice. It was a valid and compelling argument.

Outside the Bubble

What I learned in economics, though, has profoundly impacted my growth as a designer.

How? Economics was an introduction into the motivations of people. I gravitated to the classes that talked about why people acted a certain way and it taught me that my assumptions about people can be very, very wrong.

I loved learning how different cultures and nations had developed, what motivated them and how it impacted their growth. The class discussions gave me an appreciation for the how we get where we are and how truly intricate economies are.

Had I focused solely on design while in school, I may never have moved past looking only at the visuals of a designed experience. Yes, my design skills could have been even more developed at this point, but that was a trade-off I was happy to make. The understanding that came with learning outside of design has had a much greater impact, as it taught me to observe humans in a way that seeks to understand their motivations.

This is crucial to the task of product design.

Leaving Design, For Design’s Sake

Designers need to get out of design. Get out of the bubble you are in and learn. Go somewhere new, read something challenging that is outside of your wheelhouse. Learn about the world from an expert in a different profession.

This may not ever impact how you design, but it will most definitely impact the why.

I wanted to thank the guys from Design Details and their podcast interviewing Jon Lax. His commentary on designers needing to read more and not just design articles resonated with me and was the spark that caused this blog post.

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