The designer is a mysterious breed. We’ve all seen one – wearing his or her all black outfit with their black-framed glasses, speaking in a vocabulary that can only be comprehended by other designers, and finding joy in the avant garde. Of course that’s the stereotype of the designer, and one that is definitely prevalent in the profession of architecture. In my experience is seems that rarely does a person exude the image of the designer and yet have the ability to think like a designer.
But what are designers supposed to think like? Do they contemplate new words and confirm their validity with the largest dictionary they can find? Do they dream up wonderful new shades of black? Do they think of new ways for their inner genius to be heard?
Presentation Zen has a great list of 10 tips on how to think like a designer. Of course some of these rules conflict with the stereotype of the designer such as check your ego at the door (rule #4) and think communication not decoration (rule #7), especially if your communication involves using words not belonging to the dictionary.
There is a general theme (at least in regards to this list) for thinking like a designer – have an open mind, and know when to say when. A great designer (whether it be an architect, artist, graphic designer, or essentially anyone that creates) will make designing look easy, and by making it look easy most people will think that anyone can do it.
It’s similar to watching Michael Jordan make a wicked crossover dribble, drive down the lane, and then dunk over a seven footer. He makes it look so easy, but I bet most of us would trip over ourselves trying to make that first crossover move. Or any time I watched Ken Griffey Jr. swing at a pitch (at least in his prime) I thought every time he hit the ball it was going to be a pop out to shallow centerfield, but a lot of those balls continued well over the fence. It just looked like he wasn’t putting any effort into his swings, but instead of using brute force Griffey was relying on his technique.
The same goes for martial arts. Who didn’t watch a Bruce Lee movie and thought to himself “you know what – I bet I could punch through a brick wall too!” Bruce Lee made it look easy, but God knows he was probably the perfect combination of natural born ability and an incredible work regiment. Just because a great designer creates something simple doesn’t mean that anyone can design.
Simple is actually pretty damn hard to accomplish. This list is a great reference for knowing how a great designer approaches a design problem. With much practice you too can maybe attain a black belt in the design arts.
Many folks equate simple with easy, and simple is not always easy by any stretch. It is practice that makes one a good or better designer, and practice also helps make it look easy. But it is NEVER easy.
Checking one’s ego is another good point. The good designer knows what s/he doesn’t know is always greater than what s’he knows, and s/he knows that there’s always more to learn. I explain it like this: I design hospitals and healthcare facilities, and I’ve done four radiology suites in nine years. An I’ve never done the same one twice. There are similiarities between them all, but there are also plenty of difference, enough to make each one unique. I have the practice as a designer to start a radiology suite design, but I also know that the client knows more than I do about how they work and how they want to work, and that if I set my ego aside, I will learn from the client as I design.