Written by Stephen Shaw
It’s not entirely surprising. Most designers study at college in a kind of creative sandbox, a world largely without clients in which they respond to fixed design briefs and work towards a solution that suits their areas of interest and specialism. More of an artistic journey of exploration and soul-searching.
Furthermore, the academic study of design history has a lot in common with the study of art history, with abstract discussions of composition, national political influences and movements in visual style looming large.
The canon of design principles is presented to students much like infallible religious scripture and most designers begin their working lives with the fervour of the newly ordained.
This is good — this passion and enthusiasm is something that the best designers keep alive throughout their career, but… it’s also dangerous. Designers who feel that they ‘own’ their ideas tend to undervalue the contributions of those less versed in design theory. However, being an expert in all aspects of creative practice doesn’t make you an expert in the nature of your client’s business or their customers’ behaviour. If designers try to impose an idea or solution without having absorbed and interpreted the knowledge and expertise that their client brings, it’s always going to be a sterile, one-dimensional exercise.
On the other hand, a genuinely collaborative approach will reap real rewards. Working with the people commissioning design work as well as users and other stakeholders in a collaborative way to discover real issues and opportunities allows for the creation of a focused and relevant creative brief and shared, agreed goals.
With this approach and group structure in place, creative teams can bring their knowledge and skill to bear, exercising ‘passion for the craft’, while providing clients with a clear sense of purpose and context when providing their feedback.
Believing in the intrinsic ‘rightness’ of your own ideas is just lazy thinking. If you find yourself regularly ranting at the ignorance of others, perhaps you’re communicating more about your own lack of self-awareness or understanding of context… than your superior knowledge of design.