The Word Design is Confusing — But I’m Okay With That
I think the word design can be very misleading. At mention of the word, minds instantaneously look towards physical design in the form of art, graphics, fashion etc. The word design does not comfortably live alone; it always has to be assigned to a type or form of design.
As students of a program called Strategic Design and Management we’ve all heard the inevitable question “oh so what kind of design do you do?” — and this is a perfect example of how the word design carries connotations that are hard to shift.
The same confusion comes when we talk about design firms — the very name is so open to interpretation, as it can literally be any kind of firm. Prior to beginning this program almost 2 years ago, I would have associated a design firm with being a design agency — a firm that is contracted by another company to fulfill their strategic, communication and design needs. Over time, we have seen a shift in this model -design agencies are taking new approaches to the work and perspective of thinking that they offer — which has been valuable in many ways but has also left us with even more confusion and ambiguity around the word design. There are many instances where it feel companies are tacking words on to design in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the others, placing a focus on experience design, strategic design, or the dreaded design thinking.
However, over the course of this Masters program I’ve become both more confused and more comfortable with the word design — but I don’t feel the need to put it in a box. I’ve come to realize that practicing any form of design is essentially about the mindset you have towards approaching anything and everything, simply thinking differently about what is already in place and how things may change moving forward. I no longer associate design firms as being design agencies but rather as any company who is truly thinking different about their industry, users and beyond. For example, Apple and Google aren’t companies we’d immediately call design firms but these entire businesses have been heavily influenced by design in many forms, and created by those with an open and user-centric mindset.
I’m comfortable with the fact that the type of design I practice, that isn’t tangible in a traditional sense, is hard to clearly define. However, as graduation looms, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some dread about what will I call myself and how will I explain my craft or expertise to someone who isn’t a part of this world. Not just to future employers, but also to people I meet in general. Every time I explain this Masters program to someone new, my response differs — my own parents complain that each time I talk about school my words change. I haven’t figured it out yet, and I don’t know if I ever will have a clear response to the questions “What’s your Masters degree in?” but what I know for sure is this program has completely changed how I think. I’m not coming out of it with a clear career path but what I do have, which is arguably more valuable, is a refreshed, curious and empathetic mindset that will support me in all my future endeavors — even if that is just as ambiguous and confusing as the word design itself.