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If Everyone Is A Designer, Why Do We Need One?

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Just like many practitioners, you will have probably found yourself mumbling under your breath at some point, “everyone thinks they’re a designer [nowadays].” If you haven’t, a quick Google search might help contextualise what I’m trying to say.

The frustration stems from having to work alongside individuals who have little first-hand experience in the discipline, but have much to say about the direction of your design work. In more extreme cases, they’d also have hardly any empathy for your expertise and effort. It’s easy for them to feel that way, especially when the project’s success hinges on making the “right (subjective) call”. It occurs when the outcome depends on a decision that draws on “good taste” — whether the decision was made consciously, based on experience, or as an upshot of luck.

Come to think of it, we’re not alone. It’s a bit like cooking… The barrier to entry is low. It’s fair to assume every household should be capable of doing it (cook). In fact, some people who do not do it as a profession, can actually produce very good meals.

So then, why do we need chefs? Why do restaurants continue to exist?

It is encouraging they still do. While convenience may be a part of the reason, I’d argue that we find delight in and appreciate the unique expertise they bring. It’s rather an aspect of selection than just a dash of salt and pepper. As a customer, this happens when you pick the dish you fancy, along with the recommended drink pairing. Regardless, this act is but just the tip of the ice berg. We often do not recognise the unseen depth of labour, technique, and knowledge. This is where respect resides.

As a designer, it’s best to accept that this will always be a sentiment people will hold. It won’t go away. But, let your practice and experience build such that when the time comes, your counterparts would feel, “I’m glad to have you around. There’s no way I could have designed something like that.” Ideally, you’d be filing that void with both craft and artfulness (creativity).

On Craft And Intuition

This concerns the old-school appreciation for repetitive practice. You’ll know of this as the “again” and “again”. In the classic atelier, assuming it were a 4 year course of study, you’d only be touching colour beyond the third. The first two would be exclusively focused on mark-making in black and white. It’s formulated to enforce dedicated focus in honing those fewer crucial characteristics to perfection, before introducing more complex elements. The well-cited “it takes about 10,000 hours before to become decently good at anything” rule by Gladwell that comes to mind.

I never had that privilege to be schooled in this way. Yet, I’m quite conscious of how our beloved design field has become a victim to a lack of appreciation as of late.

Don’t get me wrong: the point here is about how genuine practice builds that experience; nothing about the necessity of a formal design education. The product of this great effort is the development of sensitivities and intuition.

Now, to put this under the fire: Given the rise of data-driven and evidence-based decision-making, the trending dominant prescription in methodology requires validation or testing of some kind. Without which, in the affairs of the current market, we cannot possibly prove that we’re doing design in any marketable form.

What then for us? Adapt like how manufacturing did with the rise of machinery? Adapt like how every knowledge worker will have to with the rise of acutely algorithmised processes (AI)?

On Artfulness And Individuality

Sensitivities and intuition will always matter. Figures and research will play their part in informing what they should. But like many domains in this world, it’s the careful balance and play between the “art and science” where we reap the best results.

Practically speaking, it’s impossible to “go out and verify with your users” on every single item in your battery of features. It’s not wise, it’s wastefully silly. Experienced judgement helps eliminate plenty of unnecessary assumptions — it’s the right type of educated guess that you want.

Lastly, with regards to best practice versus “ingenuity”, there’s a little analogy I often like to draw on. Give a bit of thought to the “spirit” of design which best describes what is needed: in the vein of McDonald’s or that of a Michelin-starred restaurant? You could also say that they both deliver “high quality food with great success”. One staple, quick, and impeccably standardised. The other, distinct, esoteric, and not for every tongue.

There is room for both. Pick what represents you best and go with it. Design has always been around. And it’ll always continue to be.