Design and the Designer

The Designer in the Designed

This week professional designers from the United States and beyond descend on Phoenix to attend the AIGA Pivot conference. While much will be discussed about the art, science and craft of design, an equally important focus (and one that may not be as visible) is that of the designers themselves and the role they play in their own creations.

Yesterday volunteers and staff of the AIGA along with their exhibitors and partners feverishly worked to set up what looks to be an exciting array of things to see and do at Pivot, the annual design conference.

Design is all about making things — digital renderings, physical objects, services, and even ideas — and thus, is an attractive field for those who are or want to be creative. While the act of design is something that is familiar to most of us (after all, we all design things in some manner) the discourse on the designer him/herself in relation to that process of design much less so.

Certainly there is much written on the process of creation and volumes of work on the artistic process and the great artists, architects and designers of different generations. Yet, what is scant is work looking at how designers themselves bring who they are in to what they do. One of the few to do this is Debbie Millman, who is at AIGA Pivot to speak and sign copies of her new book on the process of branding (and other noble pursuits as the title suggests). Debbie has written extensively and spoken much on the role of the designer in the process of design, particularly through her web radio show Design Matters. Yet, she and her show are exceptions and not the rule.

Design and design thinking seem to have difficulty going beyond the thinking part. As the bust in the photo above, it is my experience that many design thinkers and designers operate from above the shoulders when discussing their work in relation to themselves. This is not the same as having emotional and other sensory experiences driving the creation of a product, something most designers I know would insist as essential. This is about understanding the role of the creator in the created. What are the values, beliefs, experiences and feelings that guide the work from the designer?

It is not unreasonable to think that these personal qualities — fears, aspirations, perceptions, experiences and so forth — influence what is created and the manner in which those objects are designed. As such, understanding who is behind the creation and what that offers is important.

A method for getting at some of the deep-seated reasons we do things — including design – is to ask yourself “why” five times about something you do. As part of my ongoing research on design thinking, my colleague and I are asking designers of different backgrounds this very thing in relation to why they see design thinking fitting in with their work. The reason is partly to do with an interest in understanding what role the designers themselves play in the creation of the designs they produce — even if that design process is highly collaborative.

This reflective and reflexive work is something that has been identified as useful for many professions and over the next five days I am hoping to get a better sense of how this might be played out in design and, through doing that, how we might be able to apply it more broadly to the creation of other things.

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