Everyone is a designer

by on November 8, 2009
in design

People are always asking me, ‘how do I become a designer?’ What I consistently tell people is that they already are a designer, they’re just not consciously aware of it.

In Norman Potter’s classic ‘What is a Designer: Things, Places, Messages’ Norm makes the very clever observation that ‘everyone is a designer.’ This is truth. Everyone makes decisions. Everyone has opinions related to everything from how to get dressed in the morning to making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Everyone ‘designs their life.’ We spend time arranging furniture, the cheese plate, we decide intricate ratios of how much cream and sugar to put into our coffee and we’re all different.

So what then separates the decisions of a designer from everyone else? How are designers different, special?

The truth is we’re not special, designers simply work hard and practice systematic decision making. We do this so frequently and so often that it becomes second nature. Basically we are willing to make enough bad decisions to eventually make good ones. Indeed looking through any designer’s early work, this trend toward improved decision making is clearly evident.

Designers facilitate controlled trial-and-error and intentionally seek out failure as the source of human learning. The same way a mathematician has a natural affinity with numbers, an engineer can leverage materials to solve problems, or a programmer can rationalize the organic with an algorithm, with this practice designers develop the ability to ‘see truth’ and solve problems.

Designers see what works, and what doesn’t, and it is this ability which empowers the decisions of the designer from those of others that don’t (perhaps smartly) subscribe to this somewhat, masochistic practice. For some designers this talent surfaces as a nervous tick that can’t be turned off, for others it’s a complex understanding of common fundamental principles and applying them consistently to decision making, and for others it’s purely instinctual.

It is the whitespace between practicing trial-and-error creation and observation that empowers designer’s decisions. So I’ll answer your question with a question. Are you willing to be bad at it long enough to get good at it?

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