The power (or burden) of being a good designer
After we serve our sleepless time getting design degrees and finding our place in the world, we enter the industry clutching the edges of our education and good taste like it might vanish at any given time. We possess a certain innocence and childlike regard for what happens outside the borders of our Fine Art safehouse. We’ve been taught to think, to make, and to make it better. Over the course of navigating grades and software and serifs, we acquire a certain perception of “better”. Are there better typefaces? Better paper? Better picture quality? Better mock-ups? Better colours? Better coffee? What about better people?
When we are taught good design, we assume a responsibility for how it looks and what it says (by how it looks). Good design makes sense of things. It challenges the existing. It looks nice. We’ve arrived at this profession for a particular reason, haven’t we? Because we’re experts at playing with aesthetic and arranging shit with composure? How often do we consider the personal nature of our own character in this process? Steven Heller makes reference to the responsibilities of the “Citizen Designer”. He writes that if “good design (regardless of style or mannerism) adds value to society, by either pushing the cultural envelope or maintaining the status quo at a high level, then design and citizenship must go hand in hand.” What we forget is that outside of our honest and curated stack of hand-picked school projects, there awaits work and clients with far less integrity.
Heller refers to us as being “predisposed” to make nice things as designers. It is in our nature to guarantee something is visually appealing. By doing this well, we assume access to jobs. Entering the industry, these jobs might not always align with our morals and our obligations to society. We’re taught how to make things, and sometimes our concepts and ideas might land on the outskirts of humanity. As a student eager for the real world, for real income, and to make real things, I know I haven’t considered this other very real part of reality, and that I certainly haven’t practiced how to say “no” to projects that aren’t a reflection of my values. The difficult truth is that I will encounter professional malfeasance, and if I hold the power to affect behaviour, I owe it to my good taste to be a good citizen designer even at the cost of a paycheque. Sometimes the best work we do is the work we refuse.