Design is not heroic

Honestly, I never wanted anything to do with technology. I went to art school. I loved making art because there weren’t any limits to the ways I could express myself. The materials that my hands got to touch were real, tactile, malleable, and, at the end of the day, permanent. Art’s physicality fixes a particular point in time and declares, “I was here. This is how I felt. And this is what I made.” To me, making art always felt like putting a stake in the ground — a triumphant expression of something meaningful to me. I loved that non-digital art didn’t give me the luxury of a delete button or command-Z keystroke. Still, when I look across an artist’s body of work, I remember that each piece is part of their un-deletable process. This makes it direct. And authentic. And real. To me, this is what makes art, and the people who practice it, very heroic. When we stand in front of a piece of art, the artist invites us into their process, begs us to stand with them for a period of time, and dares us to bring our own interpretation to their personal experience or emotion. Truly, these are beautiful and powerful things.

But.

I didn’t pursue fine art as a profession because at the end of the day, it was a lonely pursuit. Everything I made revolved around me. My personal expression, my ideas, or my preferred execution of a particular thought or idea. Because of this, it was hard to share what I had made with others. There was a great onus on the viewer or audience to try and understand what I was trying to express. If they did “get it”, they often couldn’t act on it, engage with it, or share the same experience with someone else.

Art, while an indispensable way for creators to express their experiences and perspectives, often doesn’t prompt continued use from viewers. Art has a hard time getting into people’s heads, understanding their stories, empathizing with their point of view. There’s no way to know what kind of impact art has had on someone’s daily behaviors and actions once they have left your museum, gallery, or studio doors. And that makes the job of product design that much more interesting to me.

Design moves where people move. It doesn’t hold one individual’s personal experience, skills, processes, or traits in a fixed and heroic position and then beg others to come and look. Design invites people to participate. Product design is not heroic. It’s human. Designers welcome people to use what they have made in a way that is meaningful to that other person’s personal experience. The outcome of what I design is so much bigger than just one person.

As an individual, I still need ways to express myself and put stakes in the ground of my personal experience. However, as a designer, I want to make things, envision futures, and build products that go beyond my singular capacity to understand, appreciate and enjoy them. By spending time building products that others can interact with, consume, and experience, I am forever reminded that humanity is messy. Design. Is. Messy. As a designer, it is not my job to be the hero. It is my job to understand human experience and do my best to make products or services that provide better solutions to people’s broken worlds and unsolved problems.

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