I’m not one of those designers who stays up nights worrying about how best to define a thing, but I’ve found it useful to figure out what I think design ISN’T.
“Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”
That’s a load of crap courtesy of Steve Jobs from an interview during the lull between the first time he was deified and his current, iGod incarnation.
Design isn’t a dark art practiced by mystic lords on mountaintops. The more we can demystify it, the better our design gets as we open our work up to the widest variety of other peoples’ expertise. Everybody thinks they’re a designer anyway, so why fight it? The fact is, everybody IS a designer â€¦ just not necessarily a good one.
Sometimes, people communicate their expertise using tools far outside that expertise. A designer confident in their own skills should be able to withstand the horror of a designer-wannabe sketching some awful non-solution. A particularly effective designer should be able to translate the hackwork into feedback they can use to improve their own solution (or at least improve their ability to sell their own solution back to the wannabe.)
“All you have to do after you code your app is pay some designer a thousand bucks to make it look pretty.”
That’s what some bozo presenter said at an otherwise excellent conference I went to recently. His comment illustrates a confusion over what skills actually fit inside design expertise, a confusion shared even by designers. What a thing looks like is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The best design for that bozo presenter will be one that helps his app’s most important users accomplish their most important goals. That first “most important” is about business strategy; the second “most important” is about user research. Both fit comfortably inside design expertise. Not every designer is a business strategist nor a user researcher, but the success of their work should be based on how well it satisfies the user-based needs of the business.
Some people, organizations, and industries slap the word “visual” in front of the word design as a way to limit responsibility. Some do it so they can hide comfortably behind what things look like; others do it because they fear design will impinge on their own areas of control. But whatever the motivation, treating design as a superficial or easily contained thing is a mistake.
“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
That’s a recent quote from a more fully evolved Steve Jobs. Now he’s saying something.
Design is a big thing. Doing it well is a skillful undertaking, one that can easily become a life’s work. A professional athlete’s knees may fail, and the best typists might develop carpal tunnel syndrome, but other than the brain, there are no design-specific body parts that wear out over time. Designers can attain their initial competence in a variety of disciplines, but regardless of their backgrounds, designers’ skills generally improve (and the number of them increase) with age and experience.
A designer’s visual skills actually tend to flatline somewhere along the way, but a designer’s problem-solving skills can continue to improve indefinitely. This is essential because design is what it does and what design does is solve problems.