Design is a two-way street
You know how children pick up most of their behavioural traits by observing their surroundings? Funnily enough, designers do it too. While not all of us are aware of this dependency on our environment, the fact remains that we grow up with the same design sensibilities that we were exposed to in our formative years. To the outside world, it may seem like any designer is capable of creating any design. But in reality, it is practically impossible for two creative minds to come up with the identical outputs, because each designer has his own personal pool of experience to draw to from, one that belongs only to him, somewhat akin to a fingerprint.
Now this information may seem fairly obvious, probably even irrelevant when it comes to design. Because why should a designer’s roots matter when the purpose of the design is to simply solve the problem? That’s where most of us get it wrong. Ask any designer and he will tell you that the very minute he lays eyes on a project brief, he develops a vision for the project, an imaginary idea of what he wants the end deliverable to look like. At this point, he has conducted no research and seen no references, yet he is able to form this visual by mentally unraveling examples of similar projects and applying his existent knowledge to the given brief. What he may not realize is that he is using his private swarm of memories and experiences for that first bout of inspiration. Even if he doesn’t end up designing exactly what he envisioned, that initial idea plays a central role in shaping the project. Why? Because, in design, a concept rejected is just as valuable as the one implemented.
As for the ideas that do see the light of day, we subject them to evaluation and critique. The conversation, however, is often restricted to the audience’s viewpoint, which makes me wonder why the designer’s perspective isn’t considered? Subjectivity in design should be a two-way street – one with the creator’s standpoint and the other with an opposing or supportive take. It is only in such a situation that the final design can truly be assessed. For how can you judge something without fully understanding its origin, and thereby its intent. Take Xerox for example. In 1937, a man named Chester Carlson, found that his workplace never had enough carbon copies of important documents and there seemed to be no quick or practical way to do so. Drawing from this personal experience, he set out to invent a method that could create copies in a jiffy and developed xerography. But it was not until 1959, a whooping 22 years after the invention, that people began to take him seriously. Up until then, his design was rubbished for having no utility value. Today, the technology is worth billions so much so that the company’s name ‘Xerox’ has replaced the actual verb - ‘photocopy’. Some attribute his success to the hard work he put in, while some think it was his vision that led him to pioneer the design. Personally, I believe it was his individual attachment to the invention that was responsible for his success. For had he not experienced the flaw first-hand, he wouldn’t have pursued the project with such fervor.
So, the next time you’re exposed to a design or any piece of creativity, take a moment to let it sink in before you evaluate it. Understand where it’s coming from and where it’s headed. We spend enough time telling people to be better designers. Well, maybe it’s time we tried to become better viewers.