Solve my f*cking problem!

I have lately adopted an annoying habit:
I ask designers what they do for a living.

It usually goes like this:
- Hey, where do you work?
- I’m a Senior Designer at ___________.
- Cool. And what do you do there?
- Well, we make websites and mobile apps for a bunch of clients.
(Now here comes the annoying part)
- OK, but what do you do?
- I’m in charge of a team of five junior designers.
- Yeah, but
what do you do?
- Well… I’m… what?

If I’m lucky enough not to get punched in the face, it usually turns into an interesting and thoughtful conversation about purpose, meaning and value.

I’ve been volunteering as an EMT for quite a few years now, assisting people at their best and worst: The birth of a newborn, and the grief over a lost beloved. I’ve seen lives end too quickly on the battlefield, although I never took part in one. I’ve witnessed terrorist attacks on one hand, and ridiculously stupid accidents on the other. I cherish all of this. It gives me perspective in life. From time to time I try to project all of these experiences on my life in general and on design in particular.

Have you ever seen a doctor writing a blog post explaining how to put gloves on correctly? Have you ever seen an award given to a surgeon for a classy cut he just made? The thing is, doctors don’t get awarded for how they do things. Doctors are barely appreciated for what they end up achieving by what they do — which is, by the way, saving lives. Us, designers? Nowadays we can get a worldwide appreciation for a “Look, I made a button!” dribbble shot.

“But I’m an artist!”, you might claim.

Sorry, you’re not. Artists have never done paintings for the sake of showing off their brushes (at least those among them who are worth being remembered). They’ve always strived to make brave statements and promote ideas. It’s just something that a button with a long shadow will never do. And if you think that I’m wrong…

I have bad news for you, guys: We have lost it, we have failed as a community. We shouldn’t give up, though.

We’re not just designers. Design is a tool — a tool to make a point, a tool to change somebody’s perception, a tool to solve a problem. YES, ladies and gentleman, we are problem solvers, not just pixel movers!

We have super powers that we’re not even aware of. Damn, we can make a grandma’s life easier by turning her into an early adopter of tech, if we break the needed barriers and nail the product just right!

I want you to take whatever product or project you’re working on and strip it all the way down to its core. When you’re done, ask yourself: What value does it bring to anybody or anything? Now mind this: Whatever that value is — that is the value you bring to the world. It doesn’t even matter how relatively small and insignificant you think your part is, you are always a part of a bigger play. One day, when you’re gone (it won’t take too long, don’t worry), you shall be remembered for your ways and the value you brought, not for the tools you’ve used.

One heart-melting example is a project by a Hungarian artist Sarolta Bán, who created beautiful surreal images, helping to find new homes for shelter animals. Imagine how she feels in the morning!

Helping the helpless is romantic, but let’s come back to earth. We all have our day jobs, and good intentions don’t magically put food on the table. So no, I’m not saying “go be a doctor” (although it would have made your parents so proud!), it’s about developing a threshold for what you dedicate your time and life to. It might actually serve as a compass for the next time you decide to take on a project or perhaps the next career step that you consider making.

Your passion, heart, brain and experience are an extraordinary toolbox that you own. It’s up to you to decide what to use it for.

Now imagine yourself getting up in the morning every day, looking in the mirror and asking yourself: What value do I bring? What problem do I dedicate my current stage of life to solving?

Will you be proud to hear the answer? Wouldn’t you want to be?

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