Designers don’t design

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Bruce Nussbaum:

“Design in the Times is still mostly about style, aesthetics and fashion. Glitzy, cool stuff with skinny models and empty, but beautiful homes. … The entire evolution of design out of simple form to process, methods, strategy and more just isn’t in the newspaper. Even the business side of fashion, which is huge, is barely covered. Ditto for architecture. […]

Part of the problem is that the business section of the Times doesn’t get innovation. Doesn’t understand the true and changing nature of innovation (beyond the speed and performance of technology)”

I’m not sure it’s just the New York Times, or even the media in general, but extends to the design industry itself and is replicated in a lot of design education. Only recently I was involved in a heated debate with some people who refused to engage in a process of enquiry to find user needs, instead insisting on being given ‘a brief’ that simply told them what to do.

‘Design’ to most people really means ‘the crafting’ in a process that many are ignorant to. I don’t think we can blame journalists for getting it wrong because it’s easy to see the design industry’s own publications focussing on that angle, and many students and teachers too. We focus too much on developing ‘crafting’ skills and not enough on thinking skills.

As I often point out to graphics students, the easiest way to see the difference between real design and what the industry likes to call design is to compare the annual D&AD awards with the Advertising Effectiveness Awards. One rewards aesthetics, the other rewards results. The former is all about affect, the latter effect. Both are called ‘design’. But one thinks design is something done by art directors and artworkers, the other realises design is a process that starts and ends way after the Mac Monkeys have done their bit.

Maybe it’s time we redefined the word because quite frankly, like Nussbaum, I’m getting fed up with the confusion but – unlike Nussbaum – I’m seeing it in the design industry and education. Journalists are only taking their cue from us.

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