The makings of a good designer.
Let’s talk about it.
I’m going to preface this article by saying that I’m 21 years old and I probably have no idea what I’m talking about. I’ve been in the design industry for less than 10 years and have really only touched upon the fields of visual design. Dabbled really, in the grand scheme of things. There are people out there who have done way more way better than I have and that’s simply because they’re older and more experienced than I am. Product design, architectural design, and sound design are 3 examples of industries I know next to nothing about so my opinion in this matter is very biased from only what I know.
There’s this psychological principle, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, that states that those less competent will act like they know more than they do, while the more competent will always act the opposite. Perhaps this is so, because the more knowledge you gain, the more you realize there is more to learn.
So, as someone who has much more to learn and much more to understand in his life, I offer up my opinion on the makings of a good designer.
I was recently asked the following question by a friend of mine:
What do you think makes a good designer? Do you think it’s an innate trait or can it be learnt and cultivated?
What a question. At first glance, My immediate thought was to say that design is something that can be learned by anyone, as long as they have the drive and the interest for it. However, rather than reply to her question immediately, I decided instead to draft a more detailed response to pool my thoughts in.
I think to say that “anyone can learn how to do it” isn’t true. You do have to have a passion, an interest, and a drive for the subject matter, an attention to detail, and a knack for solving problems that might not have a complete solution up front. You might have to be ok with leaving things open-ended once in a while. You’ll have to be strong-willed in your decisions and not drop everything you worked for only to align to what your client has told you they wanted. You have to be ready to fight for what you believe is right with your work. Not what you like about your work, but why your work solves issues A, B, and C, and any other way just wouldn’t be feasible.
Mike Monteiro once wrote that it’s B.S. To say “I don’t know anything about design”. He’s right. I’m sure we can all find products or objects in our daily lives that don’t work as intended. Monteiro references a chair that broke when you sat in it, or a coffee cup with a cardboard sleeve on it that still managed to burn your hand.
These things are badly designed objects. They were idealized and conceived to serve a specific purpose and when they do anything but, the person that designed them did a bad job. As end-users of the design systems that produce the chairs, the computers, the coffee-makers, and all the other things in our lives, we should be able to tell very easily when something isn’t right. That’s the first step. The second step is to identify where the problem is and then create a way to rectify the issue. If you can do that, than hey you just designed a solution to a problem. If doing that felt good, and you want to continue doing that sort of work, well then, you might just be on your way to becoming a designer. There are a lot of different types, and all of them make the world a better place.
So, is a design sense something we all have? Definitely. But not everyone is willing to act on issues that they perceive as badly designed. They want to stay an end-user. That’s ok. But there are others out there that find these issues and think to themselves: “Hey, I could probably think of a better way to do that”. These people are the designers among us. The detail people. The problem solvers.
These are the people who should be cultivated, be taught the ways of learning how to be a better, more effective problem solver. They deserve it if they’re willing to put themselves out there, and spent long hours finding not just the prettiest, or the most functional solutions, but the right solutions. These people, these designers, are the dreamers who can foresee where their solution might mean for all the end-users, and how it can make the world a better place.