Everybody’s a Designer

As I look at all the ridiculous Craigslist job postings in the art/media/design section something’s become very clear to me: most people have no respect for designers or the creative types anymore. That’s the only way I can rationalize why a professional would think a designer or creative, especially one with a degree, is deserving of $9 or $10 an hour with no benefits, no vacation time and yet a ton of responsibilities and duties.

I came to another realization recently: perhaps designers and creative types are at the bottom of the totem pole because no one really gets what we do. People equate design and art with fun and leisure while a job dealing with accounting, finances or working heavy machinery is “real” work. Really, while it’d be ideal to design a PR campaign educating the general masses what a graphic designer does and why a designer or creative type shouldn’t be treated like a fast food service, face it, that’d take more time and patience than any of us have to offer.

Here’s something we can do – we can start convincing people that in some way, shape or form, everyone is a designer. You probably blinked or re-read that statement but it’s true – everybody’s a designer. I recently attended the 125th anniversary of the UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Education. The keynote speaker, Phil Schlechty, made an interesting point during his address: everybody is a designer. Now why would someone in education make such a statement when designers hardly get any recognition or respect? Perhaps that’s because those in the education field would also “get it” or understand or situation.

What makes everyone a designer? According to Schlechty, it’s all about how we set about doing our jobs. Everybody, regardless of professions, has to design in order to accomplish their work. He outlined three general goals of design and how these definitions can fit anyone and any job:

1. Design begins with goals. When you set out to design something, planning is key. Whether it’s a teacher making plans for his or her classroom, a web designer considering the UI before designing a web page or a photographer coming up with a concept for a photo shoot, we all have to start off with a plan. If we don’t take the time to plan and think of all the different aspects of our design such as the intent, audience, motive and goal, we’ll be left with an ineffective design that reaches no one and has no impact.

2. Good design keeps incentives in mind. When you design something, you aren’t designing without purpose. You often times aren’t designing for yourself but for others. Therefore, good design keeps your audience at the forefront. What motivates your audience? A good design of any kind has incentives in mind. Figuring out why people do what they do is going to drive any design towards success.

3. Design is expressive and embraces values. Great designers tell great stories. Think of your favorite teachers in school and the subject or lessons they taught that had the most impact on you. Those great lessons contained both of the previous points – they were well designed plans, they had the audience (students) in mind and took into consideration how to capture the student’s attention and, lastly, they were told in nan expressive manner. Whether you’re a teacher, a writer or designer at large, whatever you design needs to tell a story.

These three key points turns everyone into a designer. Aren’t we all presented with a problem in our work or profession? Don’t we all go about designing a plan with a goal in mind? Yes. In the end, our design or solution is only successful when our target audience truly feels it. Schlechty brought up some other points about design that applies to everyone’s profession: designers of any kind should collaborate – you need interaction to spur creativity and can’t expect to produce anything of real value working alone in isolation. You can’t design things for yourself – design is about the audience and their needs, likes and dislikes. Designers are leaders – they are the ones who take scattered ideas and focus them into effective messages for consumption.

The next time you hear someone downing designers or someone asks you why you chose to be a designer as if it’s a bad thing, point out to them that they’re probably a designer. The moment we start expanding the definition and community of designers to include people of many different backgrounds and professions is the moment we’ll once again be taken seriously and be seen as equals.

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