Design is a Spoon


My cousin asked me how she could work at a company like Rounded—I wrote her an email that may have scared her a little.


Hey Em,

Thank you for the reminder. Sometimes these things fall off my radar.

As I said before, your interest in what I do excites me—I’m happy to help in any way possible.

I couldn’t decide how to begin this email, so I’ve chosen to break things out for you. Everything said here is purely subjective, but they’re things I’ve learned over the course of my life and design career. You will eventually learn new things and, hopefully, develop conflicting opinions that we may one day argue over. For now, use the resources here, as I think they’ll help convey what it means to be a designer (at least at Rounded).

You should prepare yourself, this is going to be a doozie.

Table of Contents

  1. What Design Isn’t
  2. What Design Is
  3. Art School (Not Necessary)
  4. Don’t Take Yourself Seriously
  5. Refine Your Taste
  6. Develop a Process (Over, and Over Again)
  7. Design Everything
  8. Build Your Designs
  9. Share and Discuss Your Designs
  10. Improve Yourself
  11. Be the Best in the World

Section 1: What Design Isn’t

Design isn’t Art. The difference between the two is simple. In Art, the end result is allowed to be open for interpretation. In Design, misinterpretation should be considered a failure. A design has a clear intention and purpose. That said, if it’s good enough, it might be considered art.

Section 2: What Design Is

Design is communication. If you’re designing a tool, I should know how to use it and it should be easy to use. Design is functional. Design is a spoon, design is an interface, design is a space ship. Design is everything.

That sounds idealistic (it is). But the sooner you realize that everyone around you is designing something; the sooner you realize that the title “Designer” really means nothing. You’ve chosen to be a designer because you’re dedicated to the process of making anything and everything better. It is the practice of understanding and improvement.

Section 3: Art School (Not Necessary)

There is nothing wrong with Art School. It’s an awesome place to experiment and make mistakes without having the pressure of deliverables and timelines that people are paying for. However, I think design requires just that—practice. You can practice on your own time. Use school to learn about subjects outside of the design discipline. Unless you’re in a big city, “Designer” jobs can be hard to come by. Learning about other subjects will get you paid if all else fails and will make you a better designer in the end. To work at Rounded, you need to be good at things outside of design.

Section 4: Don’t Take Yourself Seriously

There are a lot of designers that put design on a pedestal. Unfortunately, I think a lot of designers from Art School get that rap. But the truth is, your job as a designer is to understand people. Great designers have the ability to put themselves in other’s shoes and design objects or systems that could be understood by anybody — their complexity should disappear.

Section 5: Refine Your Taste

Start surrounding yourself with beautiful things. Things that have clearly been given thought, that are functional, and are beautiful as a result of their function. Invest in simple, quality things.

Use beautiful software. Software like iA Writer (I’m using it for this insane email), Medium, and LayerVault … Oh, that reminds me, start saving up for a Mac and an iPhone. Your Dad probably won’t like that. But the reality is, they’re better. In this industry, your computers are your life and Apple makes the best computers in the world (for now). The Statue of David wasn’t carved with a blunt chisel. Use the best tools available and refine your craft.

Use the internet!

Section 6: Develop a Process

To achieve great results you need a process. Everyone’s is a little bit different, here’s mine:

  1. Write it
  2. Sketch it
  3. Choose an aesthetic
  4. Dress it
  5. Build it
  6. Do It Again

The reality is, you’re going to adopt your own. But it’s important that you repeat each step and the entire process over, and over, and over, and over again. Only through repetition will you ever be able to produce quality. Iteration and evolution are the keys to truly beautiful and functional designs.

This will be what makes you great.

Section 7: Design Everything

Try to make everything in your life better — go beyond software. Don’t be afraid to break things either. Just build them better next time around.

Section 8: Build Your Designs

We classify a web designer as someone with the ability to design and build websites. In any design discipline, it’s incredibly important to understand what you can and can’t do (i.e. constraints). Are you going to design a space ship without a solid understanding of the physics that govern flight?

When it comes to the web, there are already some awesome (free) learning tools available. Most notable: Codecademy—I still use it regularly and it’s only getting better.

Section 9: Share & Discuss Your Designs

When it comes to design as a business, half the battle is articulating your design decisions. If you’re unable to do that well, it’s unlikely you’re going to last in this industry.

  • Look for criticism
  • Accept critique
  • Demand a dialogue
  • Sell your designs … hard

Oh, and read this book.

Section 10: Improve Yourself

To be great at something, you have to be willing to look at your work critically—that’s obvious. But you also have to be willing to improve outside of your work. Be more patient, be more understanding, try new things, improve your writing, make new friends, be a better friend to your old ones, and do more for the ones you love.

Design your life in a way that makes you happy—don’t be afraid to throw some things out.

Section 11: Be the Best in the World

You have no business doing anything if you’re not going to pour your heart and soul into it. Be the best at everything you do and have fun doing it. The rest is just a waste of time.

You’re an awesome person. Keep working hard and you’ll achieve way more than I could ever dream of.

I love you,

Robert