OpEd: What Makes a Good Designer?

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this lately. Perused the design blogs, the design portfolios online looking for the answer to the question, what makes a good designer. What makes a great designer? I have come to the conclusion that the majority of designers are good, few are great. I’m not saying that I’m a great designer, or you need to be a great designer to see who isn’t. It’s merely the social order of things. Everyone can’t be great, if they all are great, then there is nothing bad; we have no way to judge good design from bad. Good design, not great. Yes, most designers are “good.” Every once in a while do designers make great designs, but for the most part, they are just good, average, adept. This by no means is not a bad thing, these are the designers that help make the world go round. The cooks in the kitchen if you will. It is also important to realize that probably 25% of designers are not good, 74% of designers are good and 1% of designers are great. I have noticed there are ways to judge this, judging through aptitude, passion, integration and evolutionary insight. Let me explain…

Strictly speaking, this level of critique is based solely upon education of whatever sort in the field of design. Gestalt, color theory, history, form and function. This proves to be the foundation of design and the designer. Lack of knowledge in this department is noticed quite readily in the designs. Red serif type on Black provides an immediate conclusion. Granted, some argue that design is visceral. It can be, yes. But, only after a designer has learned the basics of design, can the designer be adept at designing intuitively. Most designers have this already under their belt and from a foundation standpoint, helps make them a good designer.

Design is an art. Art requires passion. If a designer doesn’t have passion for their work, or at least passion for the ideal of design, then they’re in trouble. Enough said on that.

To judge a design and thusly the designer, an integration of aptitude, passion and solution of design must be presented. Taking the knowledge of design, applying it to the job or project with a passion is how we work. This is where most designers are in the world. If the designer can integrate everything they have and know into their designs and overall thought process while maintaing a passion for what they do, most likely you will find good design coming out of it.

Evolutionary Insight
This is the the precipice of designers. These designers incorporate Aptitude, Passion, Integration along with something else. That spark. That whole understanding of how things work now and how they will work a year from now. They are the trend makers and the elite. These designers are the ones that set the standard for the good designers. Example: The web2.0 look or the reflection look, each were most likely thought of by one designer. One. Now, it is such a trend that everyone is doing it. Most likely they have moved onto something else that we as good designers will see in a year. These designers have that insight into the evolution and trends. They know what will work. They are the top 1% of designers in the world.

It is important to understand that my intention is not to insult the average designer, nor interrupt their dreams. It’s the whole notion that we all can be president. In truth, we all can’t be. There are limitations in life. We can strive to become that top 1%, but it takes time, talent, passion and drive. Not all of us can be the pacesetters. There is NOTHING wrong with being good. In fact, there is everything right about being good. Good designers are hard to come by. Also, like I mentioned before, good designers are those who make the world work. I would love to be great. I strive for it. I know my place too, I’m a good designer.

OpEd: A Designer’s Responsibility Is Communication

A responsibility of the designer is to make sure the communicative process/dialog is never impeded or broken. As designers, we are the masters, or hope to be, of the communication process; whether it be through identity development, advertising or the making of publications. We set type, layout images, create copy, all in order to communicate the idea or message to the audience. It is our responsibility, or divine calling to maintain that communication, to create that communication.

However, it has become customary for designers lately, to forget or disregard the notion the we must maintain and facilitate the same amount, if not more, communication with our clients. They didn’t hire us so they could do all the talking nor did they hire us so they could communicate with the audience by themselves. They hired us for our ability to communicate a message. There is always information that we need from our client. Always something to think about that the client needs to say without dialog. We as designers have no idea what to do in order to finish the project, unless we can establish and maintain dialog with the client.

Also, we as designers, are the conduit through which all communication from the client and the audience travels. We are the interpreters, the ones who translate one language to another so the marriage between the client and audience or client and consumer will never be interrupted.

Like what was mentioned before, it is our divine calling, as designers, to facilitate and maintain that conduit between client and audience. Without it, all design would be chaotic and most communication would be chaotic. None of the messages would make sense.

Our job is communication. Our job is dialog and it’s our job to defend, create and maintain that dialog.

OpEd: Never Fear Critique When Designing

Let me start out by saying that no one is perfect and there is no one right or perfect designer. If there were, we would all hail that person as the messiah of design. Now, granted, we all have out ideal candidates for the high and mighty, end-all-be-all designer, but no one truly is. And especially us, we are not perfect nor do we make perfect designs every-time. And we must remember that. We must remember humility.

Every designer loves to critique other designs, other advertisements, clothing, music, etc. What we may not realize, all the time, is that all those designs, advertisements and clothing are designs and subsequently designed by someone, a designer. We are critiquing someone’s design. It’s not fair to  not expect it back in return. In fact, being critiqued or opening up dialog about your work will bring about new ideas, approaches and insights that you may not have thought of. Who knows, these insights might prove to be very important for the next stage of your design. Alternatively, it is important for the designer to share their designs with another designer for obvious defects and offer a chance for the designer to present and articulate their thoughts. A time to prove your work.

Remember, humility is key in design. No one is perfect. We can strive for the perfection, ultimately that perfection comes in part through the openness to others and critique. Think of it as a type of oversight.

Design is a rough profession. There are no lollipops or rainbows. There are crushed feelings, harsh words, dropped jobs and always someone better than you. In order to survive, you must be aware of this. A think skin is necessary. They aren’t critiquing you personally, they are critiquing your work. If you can’t separate that or disassociate yourself personally from critique, you should think of another game.

Somethings to keep in mind when working and critiquing:
1) Never take criticism personally.
2) Elitism should never be tolerated.
3) It’s not about your work, but the work period.
4) Oversight in design is necessary and should be encouraged.