Human first, designer second

This is how I answered the question “describe yourself” when filling out a questionnaire to attend the Do Lectures, Wales, in the uncharacteristically hot summer of 2018. Flippant, maybe, but something I wrote in the spur of the moment has come to occupy my mind when in conversation with friends and colleagues when I describe what I ‘do’.

Some context: yes I am human (obviously) and, yes, I am a designer.

More context: I have been a practising designer for over two decades now, but it is only recently that I have begun to realise what a wonderfully ‘human’ job design is. There is a skill and craft to design, and perhaps those things will eventually be swept up by the advances of AI or the Commoditisation of Everything™, but the one thing that won’t be taken away is being human, of forging relationships and doing something together for the better.

For those of you unfamiliar with the design process, a really good designer comes in to listen about your problem before walking away to do the creative magic (insert designer cliché here). You then get into to the iteration and feedback loop which is by and large where the creative magic happens. In order to avoid blindly sticking the tail on the donkey you have to understand the problem.

In order to understand the problem though, a really good designer will ask questions, sit back and listen — intently. Some people call it research, others call it discovery, I just call it listening. Listening is where the you find the good bits. The stories. The passion. The reason why someone gets out of bed in the morning.

Those stories, that passion are what rally people behind your brand, product or service. While the human story has reached a point where I can climb aboard an aircraft and be on the other side of the world physically in less than a day or be there virtually in less than a second we still have the same hardware that our ancestors had. Where did they gather? Around the fire to pass on stories and to pass on knowledge.

And that is where I now find that best bits happen in the design process. In the talking, the sharing of stories and, of course, the listening.

Not in front of the computer…