The Design Confession of a Serial Maker

Image abstracted from the final scene of the motion picture Cast Away (2000), © 2017 20th Century Fox

For the longest time I never had much interest in engaging with the broader design community. I’m ready now.

But first, I feel like I need to come clean.

Early in my design career an unhealthy phrase became a well-worn emotional t-shirt. I received it from a trusted mentor after an important client presentation had just gone sideways. The client was a young technical stakeholder with little real-world experience, who nevertheless felt comfortable lecturing an accomplished design team on exactly how to do their jobs. Thick skin was still a few years away for me, so something about the following sentiment felt like it fit. Nicely. I made no conscious decision to begin wearing it — yet wear it I would.

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” 
(from George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman)

For more than twenty years I identified myself as a doer, a maker, either from deep within the design project trenches or as a hands-on leader in various agency or enterprise settings. It made sense to me. Those who produced impactful work were worthy of respect and attention, while those who spent their time opining about design to an audience of designers were generally dismissed as little more than talented observers. I had virtually no interest in the latter. My deeply held desire to learn and grow was always squarely rooted in the experience of doing, through better or worse.

But then came time. With time, perspective.

Professional beliefs exist on many levels of awareness. As a long-standing design practitioner I hold many surface level opinions about process, technology, content, and experience patterns that constantly change. But there are deeper things, long held convictions, mental drivers formed early in my career that I’m rarely even conscious of. Those are the things that life experience evolves quietly over time, and are often only recognizable in hindsight.

Which brings me to this. As the years have passed I find myself standing squarely in the second half of a design career looking back at the first, increasingly aware of how much joy and value comes from engaging in broader professional discourse — something I’ve neglected for far too long. I’m eager now to start giving something back to the design world at large, passing along what semblance of wisdom and knowledge I’ve been lucky enough to stumble across.

I’ll always love to make. For that I don’t apologize. But my attitude has matured and is now perhaps more in line with the following:

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”
(credited to Aristotle, true author unknown)

Both are wonderful things.

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