No they don’t suck, but my wife might say otherwise with me! Bruce Nussbaum, of Business Week fame, decided that “designers suck” during his recent presentation at Parsons New School of Design.
What started as a NextD email me asking what I thought about this blog post written by Bruce Nussbaum from business week titled “Are Designers the Enemy of Design?”, turned out to be something that I would have responded too anyway. This article, a written form of his speech, was a powerful one that touched on many of the undercurrents in the design industry today.
However this presentation, to eager to learn students, contains a few issues here that are over generalizations, probably made by a lack of real understanding in the nuances of a design profession.
1) Bruce’s comparison of what is considered design is so simplistic that it reminds me of the age old discussion of what makes an Amateur vs. a Professional.
â€¦the design of our music experiences, the design of our MySpace pages, the design of our blogs, the design of our clothes, the design of our online community chats, the design of our Class of ‘95 brochures, the design of our screens, the design of the designs on our bodiesâ€”We are all designing more of our lives.
It’s like saying, “I designed blog template thus I am a web designer”, “Picasso’s cubes is something even I could do”, or “I write this blog therefore I am a journalist just like Bruce”? Yes we are all designing more today, but are we professionals?
The discussion continues to discuss “design democracy” and about getting customers into the design process to design their own products with designers. Designers ARE already doing this. Other than the boutique lifestyle designers, I don’t think there are many successful designers still working in the ivory tower. Market research, user scenario development, open forum discussions, focus groups, user case studies, all examples of participatory design.
But news flash, “design democracy” or participatory design is not a free range chicken, it needs to be managed and managed well. You need to filter out the noise, and people are only good at telling you what they don’t like, empty vessels shout the loudest etc. Any designer with a strong background in research will know, “design democracy” is only part of the equation. True innovation still needs to come from deep inside the mind of a designer after synthesizing all the data in his/her melon. No I’m not saying only designers can do real design. No far from that, what I am saying is designers have to training and tools to do the RIGHT design. And that is where products such as the Palm Pilot, Apple iPhone, Motorola Razer came from.
2) Designers are not getting away from this discussion scott free. Designers have long been very poor in communicating complex design concepts and theories to non-designers. As a result people view designers as these “gods” sitting on their high horse and ivory towers, un-compromising, difficult to work with, and just down right SUCK. Well as you can see it’s not so much about protecting one’s job, but it’s about communicating to the misunderstood or the less informed.
Perhaps this to me, is more important than this whole business “trend” bandwagon that all the business schools seem to be jumping on. Really if designers can better communicate their work and thoughts, I think there will be less of a need for managers to go to school to learn to be a designer.
So what good can come out of democratizing of design? First participation can inspire designs, and secondly it pushes designers to push themselves to do great work. However I don’t think “democratizing design” is only about people who want to get involved in the design process or “to design their lives”. In fact my view of “democratizing design” stems from the birth of the Pro-sumer. They are consumers so aware and knowledgeable about the products they buy, they can tell you everything thing about your product, even things you never knew. Thus these clever consumers are starting to dictate what they want instead of accepting the junk already in the market. Life as a designer will get more difficult, and companies focusing on design has re-invent to survive
3) Towards the end Bruce implies designers suck because they are not Green focused? I can bet you good money that there are no designers out there today who does not know their impact to the environment. My god it’s like a broken record, this blame the designer nonsense. Well perhaps this rant was targeted to the 1% of the designing population with titles like Vice President, Design, or Chief Design Officer?
Honestly don’t blame designers, but really it’s hard for anyone who has not worked in the design industry to see this. To me the real blame lies with the companies designers work for. As long as there are very few designers in the boardroom all this ranting and raving is going nowhere as it does not apply to 99% of the design population who have very little say in such matters.
Ultimately being a designer is a profession, it puts food on the table or feed the kids. And if you are struggling designer looking for work, would you say No to a company with a less than perfect environment record, or get hired, get fed and be an agent of change when the time is right?