Wednesday, March 10, 2010

...what does it mean to be a designer...

A few days ago, Triona, Lucy and Fionn gave a very thought provoking talk about 'design sensibility'. We were asked by Gabriela to describe what 'being a designer' means to us, personally?

It is not a new question to me. I believe that everyone who attempts to pursue a career in any field of design, whether it is graphic design, product design, fashion, interaction etc., has to ask themselves at some stage: who I really want to become and what role I am going to play in society?

Whenever I try to understand something, I start from the very basic descriptions, simple explanations that, surprisingly many times, capture the gist. Those can be often found among children. Kids have this amazing skill of simplifying complexity in a way which one forgets while growing up. Although their 'definitions' may seem infantile, they frequently manage to encapsulate true nature of things. This time I also decided to use 'child's brains' and go back to my own innocent childhood days.

I remember knowing word 'designer' quite early in my life. I suppose I first got it to know while watching fashion shows on TV. Next, interior designers entered the world of my vocabulary. This word always sounded a bit mysterious - like 'magician' but slightly different one. I clearly remember that I had this picture in my mind of a person who knows/has a power to give the right shape to things. I was convinced, that for example, if designer is given a simple table, they know how to carve its legs, what colour of paint use etc. As a result, the table was given a proper 'shape' - looked nicer, fitted better into the room etc.
To summarize, me-child thought: designer is a person who gives the right shape.

After all the years of my education, also design oriented, I have to admit that I agree with me-child. The same definition still works for me! Of course, now I would expand 'giving shape' also to shaping experiences, shaping interactions etc. I am also aware that designer's knowledge what the desired shape is, results rather from being a diligent student of the world around, not from magical powers.

Another explanation of who designer is, comes from my fascination with languages. I love to play with words, find hidden meanings, unusual collocations etc. Let's look at design.
'To sign', apart from putting down ones own signature, means to write a name on something, possibly explaining what the object is. Using Apple Widget Dictionary, such a note may be ' publicly displayed giving information or instructions in a written or symbolic form'. Quoting the same source, a sign may be a 'gesture or action used to convey information or instructions'.
Having checked a meaning of the prefix 'de-', we discover that it usually indicates some change in minus, getting rid of something or signifies the 'opposite' object/concept to the one following this prefix, e.g.: de-gradation, de-motivation.
What do we get, if we analyze 'design' using this knowledge? 'Design' seems something opposite to sign! 'Designer' so, would be a person who - by performing their work - eliminates the need for signs; 'removes' signs from objects by...
...I believe, it happens by giving them the right shape :-)

I know those two explanations above are rather playful then scientific. However, I have a feeling that they reflect a true nature of being a designer. Once we acknowledge these basics, we can proceed to thinking over nuances and complexities of designers' work.

One last thing:
I want to add one more idea to my childhood notion of a designer. I believe that designers have 'power' to shape the future...
I encourage to give this idea a thought and recommend watching PopTech talk on 'Pioneering Design' by Lorrie Vogel.

* * * mindmap on the subject coming up soon * * *

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