Michael Bierut has written perhaps one of the most insightful pieces I’ve read all year over at Design Observer. He manages to encapsulate all of my insecurities as a designer, points a finger at designer industry at large and provides us with a big, fat ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card, all in one concise post.
What got you started?
If you’re a designer, what got you started on this path? I’ll wager, for most of you, it wasn’t anything to do with business, academia, or writing. For most of you it will be because you wanted to create beautiful things for a living. I did. I started out wanting to be an artist, then an illustrator and then found myself interested in type, before working on the web. As time has passed, I’ve been doing less of the very thing I wanted to do. The important thing to consider here though - this has been a choice.
Take Me Seriously
So what has been taking up my time if I’ve not been busy creating stuff? Well, the list is endless from trying to run a startup design studio through to writing specifications etc. All of that stuff is, at the moment, necessary for me to do my job. But, I’d rather just be creating something beautiful you know? Design, especially on the web, is so wrapped up in process (and most of the time, rightfully so) that the very thing we love doing, gets left to the end and is only a minority part of the process. The craft of designing something beautiful.
Personally, the bit of the job that I get a kick out of gets left to the end. I like solving problems, I like producing a solid, well-crafted solution to a client. But the bit I really get a kick out of is when I’m ‘in the zone’ creating something beautiful. That is why I’m a designer.
But that’s not good enough. As designers we’re supposed to be problem solvers - not artists, right? This horrible duality fuels insecurities and Michael has summed this up way better than I ever could:
No, what designers wanted then and want now, more than anything else, is respect. Respect from clients. Respect from the general public. Respect from — let’s go right to the cliché — our moms. We want to be seen as more than mere stylists, we want to set the agenda, to be involved earlier in the strategic process, to be granted a place at the table. In short, just like the Chaste Clarissa, we want to be taken seriously.
Does that ring a bell? It did for me.
Problem Definition Escalation
This is just brilliant. Michael explains the term thusly:
The client asks you to design a business card. You respond that the problem is really the client’s logo. The client asks you to design a logo. You say the problem is the entire identity system. The client asks you to design the identity. You say that the problem is the client’s business plan. And so forth.
As you can see, design is not just about making things pretty, it’s about business plans. Right?
This really made me chuckle. I’m sure a lot of designers have been guilty of this - I know I have. The funny thing is, as Michael points out, it’s a direct result of our insecurities as designers. We want people to think we’re clever problem solvers who can help in every step of their business. Really? I don’t know about you, but I got into design to make beautiful things and I intend to stay that way.
I’ll leave you with a closing quote from Mr. Bierut:
Designers, you don’t have to be dumb. Just don’t be so afraid of being beautiful.