This question is the stuff of wars. Designers can’t agree on it and clients sure as hell don’t agree with any of those designers. I watched a video of a very bright, articulate designer named Frank Chimero (I’ve been a fan for a long time) talking at the Build Conference in Belfast, Ireland last November. He wrestled with this question and inspired this post. I thank Vancouver design firm Seven25 for bringing my attention to it and Vimeo for posting it.
Clients see designers as thing makers. Designers see themselves as researchers and sociologists or illustrators and typographers, or, a combination of all of them — and then some. Design is a changing profession and trying to define it is like trying to sew fog.
You can’t measure design (well you can, but it will cost you a fortune and it’s hit and miss) and businesses are risk averse. Most businesses run on logic. Good input, defined process, defined output. All that logic may be safe, but it’s status quo. Business likes that safety. As my partner Ray tweeted just yesterday, “Businesses don’t mind being different as long as they are like everyone else” But here’s the thing. The more things blend in the less interesting, meaningful and delightful they are. We all know that you can’t please everyone. Tibor Kalman famously said, “If you try to make something nobody hates, no one will love it.”
Chimero argues that design is storytelling. Not a new idea, but I happen to agree with it. It humanizes things which are either hard to explain, technical or just plain boring, unless they are crafted into something compelling. A story. So, on the most basic level, design is storytelling. But to do that storytelling designers bring to bear their mad skills combined with knowledge of sociology, psychology, art and history. They craft complex ideas into compelling, digestible bits that people understand and, if they’re so inclined, they can love.
Design provides the thing that is most difficult for businesses to buy today and that’s the ability to be noticed. We have everything we could ever want to know available to us today. All we have to do is Google it. But can we find what we need, what speaks to us? That’s what design can do. And that’s what a designer is.
Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.