15 August 2007

I am a designer and you are not!

It started as a question in my mind. If you are throwing people into two buckets, designer and non designer, what is the criteria? Some 70 messages, 8 days and a few scoldings by notable authors later, there was still not an answer. Worse yet, those most upset by my assertion that everyone is a designer could not bring themselves to commit to answering that simple question. What makes you a designer and others not?

I am a relatively simple and grounded person. I was not born into aristocracy, I did no go to an elite school and I have as yet, not had a book signing. But I have been a successful designer, hired scores of designers, assembled some very successful design teams and founded a groundbreaking and successful design firm. Many of my clients have said very nice things about my design work. Surely I am qualified to know what makes a person a designer. I do not, but I know a designer when I see one.

Training, experience, title, attitude, image, vision, or the responsibility that comes with all that is being a designer implies. Is this the formula?

Tolerance is something I like to think I have in abundance, though my daughter would likely beg to differ. But when it comes to self-proclaimed design gods, and all of the arrogance, attitude, elitism and snobbery that they can muster, I must confess I fall shy of a reasonable attitude. Why? Because design is not fashion, art or style. It is not hocus pocus or a magic formula. It is not, ‘if you can’t figure it out, then you just don’t get it” stuff.

Good design… and especially great design should be judged by fulfilling objectives set forth prior to designing. That’s right, design is solving a predefined problem. It can be visual, organizational, functional or many other things but its success is defined by its goals and objectives – explicit or implicit.

So a more tactical call for this discussion is embodied by the group who’s forum this discussion occurred. Like most associations or professional groups, it is charged, in part with advancing the profession (I assume in the eyes of those who enlist designers, for the sake of larger fees).

In my experience, external forces are largely ineffective at enforcing respect. Surely the attorney’s Bar Association, the Doctors’ AMA, and other groups have their share of swagger. But I dare say that few peoples lives are on the line when a designer or design firm is chosen. Respect is gained in a couple of ways, intimidation (that would be where the boss says that Cindy will make all of the design decisions, and through performance. The later is when by doing good, you continue to be entrusted to do more good. While I make light of the former, there is a version that is very rational. It is perfectly reasonable to delcare roles and responsibilities for a project, prior to its start.

I believe, not unlike the association I referred to earlier does, that design is a powerful tool and a profession that is undervalued and under respected in the business world. I also believe that all designers owe it to themselves, if not their profession to work hard to raise that level of respect and professionalism. But doing so through snobbery and elitism is beneath me, and I would like to think most credible design talent. There is no magic to great design. Hard work, experience and careful insight all contribute to great design. There is rarely a short cut to great work, or respect.