You win some, you learn some
I am often asked if a degree in design is worth it. Worth what – the money? Haha! (Sorry, Dad.) But worth everything else? Definitely. How so? Well, I CAN spew some pretentious nonsense about how design “intrigues the user on a subconscious level”, but that’s really an answer I’m saving for my B-school interview. So, I will give you the simpler, more honest version. I think an education in design is worth my time, effort and all the confused stares I get for choosing this career, because long after I’ve graduated, I still find myself learning new things about the field. On paper, a degree in design spans 4 years but in reality, it lasts a lifetime. What’s even funnier is that the more information I gather about this field, the more I feel obligated to impart it. It is something all designers experience – the intense need to constantly educate society on design.
It comes as no surprise that our first student is always the client, who is often of two types: the really diligent first-bencher who idolizes his teachers or the dreaded last-bencher who is just praying for the session to end. And based on the receptiveness of the audience, designers have to switch from being indulgent to putting their foot down. Yet the ultimate goal always stays the same – to create an impact so powerful that they're left begging for more. This exchange of knowledge with the client is one of the most crucial aspects of the project, probably even more than the actual design. Why? Because the client is the filter. He has the final say on what gets rolled out, and if you haven’t educated him sufficiently enough, the ideas you thought would change the world, might never see the light of day. We’ve always been told that a good product sells itself. But if you think about it, a product is only as good as the person selling it and only as simple as the dumbest person using it.
In all honesty, schooling the client is far too elementary. What’s harder is explaining to the world why your design is worth its salt. Your user isn’t waiting in a boardroom, looking at your presentation and trying to understand the thought-process. The user doesn’t care about where you’re coming from or the intent of your idea. He has one ask – does your design make his life simpler? If you meet that basic requirement, you’ve won. If not, you don't lose, you learn. This junction happens to be the most interesting part of the design process, where the designer stops educating his user and instead begins learning from him. He receives genuine feedback that matters because it’s coming from someone who expects nothing but seamless usability from the design. This set of criticism is always welcome because it is a true depiction of the design’s substance.
Shouldn’t that be the end of the list? Well, it’s not. Clients and users aren’t the only groups that designers seek to edify. A crucial part of any design is the verdict from the design community itself. Sure, every designer is eclectic, but it would be foolish to think that the biggest source of inspiration comes from anywhere else but fellow designers. This is exactly where our perpetual learning curve hogs the limelight. The reaction from within the industry is never taken lightly for it comes from your peers who are evaluating your work. They know exactly what you know and probably even more, and they use their inherent aptitude for the task. But this exposure is most definitely a two-way street. If your design is critiqued, you learn how to better it. If it’s lauded, you go down in history. You become a single source of motivation for other designers who will spend the rest of their careers trying to match the brilliance of your design. You turn into a mentor and for all intents and purposes, you spend your life trying to stay one. I think that's the beauty of design - it's not a chance to sum everything up, but an opportunity to continue telling the story.