I enjoy taking time out to mentor design students across a wide range of disciplines – graphics, film, product, service design, UX, advertising, digital – and when I’m not listening, learning and guiding the next wave of talented designers, I get to share my own stories of a career in design. One thing that never fails to get surprised or confused looks is when I tell students that a design education is a career insurance policy.
Design is your career insurance
Let’s say you’re a graphic designer. You’re solving problems using a set of tools and methods, mostly in the visual space. You are mastering the art of communicating, persuading, affirming or confronting, delighting or frustrating, guiding your viewer’s focus, prioritizing the content, getting the message across, leading your viewer to a desired next action.
As you progress in your career, you’ll spend less and less time learning fancy new production tools and more time understanding the core problem that your work needs to solve.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” – Albert Einstein, Designer
Exploring a design problem is hard work. It takes time and effort, and it’s rarely seen or understood by the people who will consume your design work. You need to bring together a mix of expertise, evidence, insight, opinion, previous experiences and visions for the future. You’ll need to cut through your own biases and those of others, and you’ll need to challenge strong opinions, all in order to realize the intended outcome and inform a great piece of design that works.
Once you know what the problem is, you’ll bring your design production skills together – creativity, judgement, intuition, user insight, domain expertise, client communication, peer critique and collaboration – and you’ll apply those skills using your design tools to make your solution as good as it can be.
Now stop a second and look back at all those skills and capabilities to explore a problem and create a solution. Every single one is valuable and applicable across almost any domain of work, far beyond what would be traditionally understood as a “design” role:
Organizations need designing
Teams and their capabilities need designing
Processes and their interconnections need designing
Products and services (and how they are delivered) need designing
Societies and governments need designing
Spaces and the transportation arteries between them need designing
Everything we’ve created around us has been designed (whether it was understood as “design” or not). The tools change, but the fundamental skills are the same: Design is simply the process of realizing an intended outcome.