Do you know WHY you are a designer?

If you haven’t watched the Ted talk by Simon Sinek called Start With Why, you should stop reading and go watch it. It really is a brilliant presentation explaining that understanding “why” you do what you do is so incredibly important. Sinek explains why Apple does such an amazing job at their marketing and why they have such devoted followers that many describe as cultish. Recently, I was thinking about why I do certain things and I started to ponder why I am a mechanical design engineer, and more specifically, what motivates me as an engineer. My first inclination was to say that I love designing because I enjoy the process of problem solving. I love finding solutions. I definitely get excited when I am able to see a problem, and through a process of brainstorming and design, come up with a solution. There is a lot of satisfaction in being a problem solver. Then, I considered the possibility that I love being a mechanical design engineer because I love making things. I think all humans have the inner desire to create things. We all feel a sense of pride when we make a delicious dinner, even if we were just following a recipe from online. We love taking seemingly nothing and turning it into something beautiful. Being an engineer gives me the opportunity to make things all the time. I love crafting things by hand. I love designing clever parts to be machined or fabricated. I love designing products that are beautiful and useful. These all give me satisfaction and are part of why I am a mechanical design engineer.

Understanding why you do what you do is really about motivation. When you are able to nail down your “why” you will find that it is an amazing motivator for designing every day. But at the end of the day, being a problem solver and a creator are not long term motivators. Getting motivation to solve problems comes and goes. Getting motivation to create things doesn’t last forever.

What is your long term motivation? What keeps you going every day to be creative and design beautiful things?

For me, it depends on what I am doing. When I design a product that I am going to sell myself, the thing that motivates me the most is when a complete stranger pays me for what I have built. It is such a cool feeling when I pour time and money into an idea and then a complete stranger gives me cash for what I have created. I find a lot of motivation when I am able to sell the product that I have designed and made myself. Shipping that product is so incredibly motivating and rewarding. Now when I design a product for someone else to sell and market, my customer is the founder, inventor, or investor that I am working for. My motivation when designing for someone else is seeing them be successful. What is cool about this motivation, is it is also my goal. Goals and motivation tend to be synonymous, and I love seeing my customer being successful. The design is fun, and it is always cool to design a product that is functional and beautiful, but what really matters is the success of the customer.

When designing for a founder, inventor, or investor, that person’s success is all that matters at the end of the day. Sometimes as a design engineer, we get blind to our customer and get caught up in the features. It can be easy to take a list of requirements and create a product that fits within them. You can be very successful as an engineer doing this. And it can seem like you are doing an excellent job as the design engineer by delivering to your customer what they have asked for. But designing as a holistic engineer, the success of your customer relies on you understanding their dream, their passion, and their needs. You as the design engineer can elevate your designs even further by understanding more than the functional requirements. This seems obvious from the outside looking in, but it is not uncommon to see engineers get tunnel vision on the requirements.

Understanding the “why” is so cool because it helps keep you from getting burned out, and it helps your customer become successful because you are more focused and you see the big picture. Every holistic engineer and designer needs to establish their “why” for every project which help guarantee their customer’s success.