What I Have Learned About Design
— — my growing process with design
At this moment of almost graduating (after finishing this final blog lol), I have entered this field called “design” for 6 years. During these few years, I kept repositioning myself from an analytical thinker with a bit creativity to a visual designer with sharp eyes, to currently a strategic designer with the understanding of human behaviors. I’ve been always wondering what the career path of a great designer should look like, and if I am making right decisions. So I guess this point would be a right time to think about what I have done as a designer and where I should go, cause for me getting to an end of one period means starting a new episode of life, just like commencement also means beginning.
When I first entered college to learn about visual design, I was totally unfamiliar with what design is. At that time, design for me was all about imagination, innovative ideas and appealing appearance. But soon I realized that design is much more than just making things visually better, it’s about communication. You have to convey your opinions or intentions through a piece of graphic design, or packaging, or a website, purely decorative design won’t last. What was more exciting for me was that visuals can bypass the barriers of language in a lot of situations. I am a big fan of different cultures, it made me feel that I can create a bridge of cross-cultural communications to foster better understanding in different cultures as a visual designer. I even tried different ways to explore the combination of Chinese characters and English words in my thesis. However, there was a big trend of designers to work in branding agency to work on brochures, advertising stuff, which I was not quite interested. Thus, I decided to move to New York to learn more about different cultures and design process behind.
And New York did not disappoint me. What I learned here totally dragged me out from the small world of visual design and gave me a wide open space to picture my future with design. Design is all about problem solving — different kinds of problems. Communication is just one of the tools to solve the problems. What I could take away in these two years is far more than just learning about design itself, but the whole working process around design.
Most of the projects I worked on was in team. It’s true that sometimes we might not work in the same pace, we might have conflicts in opinions. But it was really not about who got it right, it was about getting more possibilities to try and fail and try, and finally the work we did together was better than the works that any of us could have done by ourselves. Then there would be a nice point where all debates became a part of getting there. This opinion goes even deeper after I tried to do my thesis project alone to see how far I could push myself. The project ended up well, but there were a few moments I wish I could I have a partner to give me some new perspectives.
Meanwhile, I start to realize my interests in psychology and sociology during the process of design research. I really love people watching, talking to people to see their reactions and analyzing their intentions behind their behaviors. Though I have to admit it’s the most struggling and stressing part to gather those consumer behaviors information and dig deeply into them to synthesize and capture patterns of their behaviors when I was doing my thesis research, it’s also the most fun part. I actually enjoyed waking up seeing those post-its on the wall, grabbed some food and drew some circles on them. That’s something I would memorize when I finally got the insights and looked back into the whole journey.
The passion for human behaviors also leads to my current pursuing, which is to be a User Experience Designer/Researcher. The reason I choose User Experience Designer is that I don’t want my design to be just a service any more. I don’t want to design a beautiful interface as told, while not involving in other process or understanding the intention. For UX designer, as a middle part, they are the ones who are doing design based on their deep understanding of users and who may have chance to really develop the strategy behind. When I was a intern in Reuters doing both graphic and UX design, I really felt the difference. Graphic design (interface) is more about pixels and how you communicate, while UX gives me the possibility to have my opinions and join the discussion of how we should do the whole process.
But that’s really not my end goals. It’s more like a transition for me to evolve from a purely visual designer to a strategic designer and to test out how deeply into the strategy I can go to. And what’s more, I even don’t feel like there would be such clear boundaries with different design positions and other fields in the future.
“Everybody is a designer, from Papanek, is more true than ever. The designer doesn’t design things anymore, but designs conditions.” — Felix Janssens
Design won’t be a speciality, but a mindset. It has to be applied to the whole process of problems solving, and whole areas. Design will not only be design, it will intertwine with philosophy, psychology, art and science. Inspirations are no longer coming from other designers, but from the people outside the design industry. But I wouldn’t say graphic design or other specific design skill “does not exist”, they are just repositioned and combined with other elements as part of the process.
And I feel like good design is like a conversation, it starts with intention, it evolves along the way, it involves different perspectives, it communicates itself, while we will never stop learning how to talk better during the lifetime.
“A designer has become a theorist, researcher, artist, philosopher, scientist, programmer and much more. So many that it’s become harder to connect it all together.” — Dimitri Nieuwenhuizen
I would say, a designer who is not a psychologist, is not a good researcher and strategist. It’s all about connecting the dots, and realizing the ultimate dream as a human.
That’s where I am going.