Michael Ullinger
Jun 20 · 3 min read
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Many people claim they can’t understand design: they don’t have an eye for it; they can’t see the importance; it’s just too different from what they normally do. But let me tell you a little secret: Design isn’t that difficult! The truth is that everyone has an innate understanding of design — though I suppose depends on how we define “design.”

Many people claim they can’t understand design. The truth is that everyone has an innate understanding of design.

I find dictionaries to be boring and restrictive. I’m more of a “build it yourself” guy, so let’s start with the basics: part of speech. Technically design is both a noun and a verb (“That is a good design.” or “How should we design this?”), but it seems logical that the thing is just the result of the action, so let’s simplify everything and say:

Design is an action.

But what does that action entail? Well, the best designs, and therefore those most worth praise, are the designs which solve a problem.

Design is solving a problem

While this is true, it’s hardly a definition worth its words. There are many solutions to a problem, but not all are particularly effective or attractive. A design is not a mere solution, and so designing is not merely solving a problem.

A design is not a mere solution, and so designing is not merely solving a problem.

Design must be effective — an ineffective design doesn’t truly solve the problem. Design must also be creative, though not necessarily artistic. Creativity shows an intent and thoughtfulness in finding the best available solution. A painter may show it in his brushstrokes, a writer though their word choice and tone, and a software developer through their clean, elegant code.

Design is creatively and effectively solving a problem.

Now we’re getting something that looks like a useful definition, but let’s go a little further. Let’s make our definition more effective by adding a bit of guidance: How do you design?

This is really the key to universality of design, because we might as well be asking the question “How do you tie your shoes?” or “How do you drive a car?” The answer is that you use a set of tools (pen and paper, your hands, a steering wheel and pedals), you draw on your own experiences (previous designs, years of shoe tying, driver’s education classes), and you follow certain rules and best practices (guidelines and standards, knot tying methods, driving laws). This methodology is what makes it easy for you to solve these everyday problems and it makes design an integral part of our everyday lives.

Design is creatively and effectively solving a problem by using a set of tools, experiences, and best practices.

Seems a little broad, doesn’t it? Good! Design is a huge field. It encompasses nearly every profession at every level, from graphic designers to architects, garden designers to software developers. And while someone who designs clothes probably won’t be able design the proper acoustics of an auditorium, it doesn’t mean a fashion designer can’t enjoy a concert that sounds great, or that a sound engineer can’t have a closet full of nice threads.

Design is a huge field. It encompasses nearly every profession at every level, from graphic designers to architects, garden designers to software developers.

We encounter designs every day that delight us, others that frustrate us, and still more that we may not even recognize as design, but the key is that we don’t have to be specialized designers to understand them. Just learning the basics opens your eyes to the designs in the world around you. A speedy study of graphic design and you’ll start finding alignment and kerning bugs all around. A crash course on interior design can show you a better layout for your living room. A brief reading on game design can help explain why level 33 of Angry Birds is so darned infuriating.

Just learning the basics opens your eyes to the designs in the world around you.

Most of the world around us is designed: our homes, our workplaces, and even our parks and forests. Understanding how those designs work helps us better navigate our lives, drives innovation and creativity, and keeps us from falling prey to bad design.

NYC Design

A publication for designers in New York and followers all around the world. Design thinking is what makes us write here on Medium to share with the designers of the world.

Michael Ullinger

Written by

An engineer turned product/UX designer. I share lots of opinions while trying to keep teams focused on serving the end user.

NYC Design

A publication for designers in New York and followers all around the world. Design thinking is what makes us write here on Medium to share with the designers of the world.

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