I attended my first design conference in San Francisco in 2014. The keynote speaker was a very well-regarded designer known for the creation of several key technology products, as well as his company NewDealDesign.
For me, perhaps the most important takeaway from that keynote was that successful product design results from one’s own instincts.
What does that mean? Basically, the ability to make impactful design-related decisions on a foundation of knowledge and intuition.
At its very core, design is about devising a specific solution that addresses a defined problem, challenge, or objective.
If there’s human interaction, a design also has to be crafted in a way that garners traction, favorability, and long-term adoption by the user.
An effective designer combines critical or analytical thinking, inherent or acquired knowledge, and a practical skill set.
The instinct for creating successful designs comes from the innate ability to analyze the scenario thoroughly with a critical mindset, and then devise what is deemed by the designer to be the ideal, or most effective solution.
A designer with a strong instinctual foundation approaches each new situation with confidence and determination. A new project may seem intimidating, especially if there’s something unfamiliar. But with curiosity and a knack for discovery, that initial sense of overwhelm subsides once the necessary research has been performed and sufficient knowledge accumulated.
It’s probably debatable as to whether this instinct can be taught, much like learning a UI design tool such as Sketch or InVision. Or whether it’s a skill that only comes naturally. To me, it’s at least a little of both.
I’m not a professional designer, but I’ve always been intrigued by the design profession. Quite frankly, I’m perplexed by the fact that what I’ve read out there about design is disproportionately hyper-focused on the minutiae of the design process.
There’s an awful lot of talk about design sprints, UI elements, UX trends, wireframing techniques, and such. But not much in the way of clear and convincing elucidations of the problem or challenge, and the storytelling of crafting the design that solved it. Not to mention a clear relation of the design to the core mission it was intended to serve.
Design, along with UX, is a high-profile profession today that carries wide appeal and considerable clout, within the tech industry and beyond. There are surely many looking to design as the career choice that could bring prosperity and even be the savior to their humdrum work lives.
But design may have also become something akin to the foodie world, with hero worship one of the inspirational factors attracting the attention and desires of wannabe chefs.
Equally troublesome is that design is too often conflated with art. Yes, there is a definite element of artistic creativity in crafting a great product design, but design and art are fundamentally distinct principles and disciplines. The same goes for a traditional graphic designer, and someone with the far more encompassing responsibilities of a designer. Abstract, Netflix’s recent documentary on design was panned by reviewers, partly because of the perceived confusion with art.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong at all with a creative role in a design organization. In fact, it’s highly valued and absolutely necessary. Understanding the distinction is what really matters.
The decision to pursue a design profession is personal, of course. But I very strongly believe that without a clear sense of purpose in wanting to solve problems and satisfy critical objectives, and a desire to create something different or better, you may ultimately be doing little more than looking at design as a profession unto itself.
That is absolutely the wrong reason to become a designer.