Everyone is a Designer

Twitter is good for many things. Like arguing. Hang on, no it's not. But it's really good for being contrary! Some may find that to be too semantic a distinction, but, well, I agree with Monty on this one.

From time to time, the Twitter bubbles I follow like to be contrary (though, attempting to seem like arguing perspectives leading to an agreeable outcome) about many things: Titles, Definitions, Responsibilities, and what constitutes a Senior UX Somethingsomething. It's obvious some wade into the threads to have some fun with people, while others take things overly seriously. Ultimately, it's their Twitter and they can do with it what they want, but recently an “argument” revolved around, “Who is a Designer?”

If you want to wade through the weeds of the threads, well, I don't really recommend it. The long and short of it is people are in two camps (assuming they care about the topic): Everyone is a designer and only Designers can/should be designing.

I am, quite solidly, on the side of Everyone.

What is a Designer?

No clue, love. My current, best-feeling definition is:

A designer is someone who makes choices (often a mix of intentional and unintentional) to have a thing be a certain way.

Yes, very wide-open definition. On purpose. Look around wherever you are to see all the physical and digital products, all the services, and all the system-structure that needs to be in place for them to exist. Someone (likely someones) made all of it on purpose. They designed it to be that way. Likely, especially if the thing you are looking at is more than 15 years old, there wasn't a Designer on the team that made it. Maybe their title was Engineer, or Business Analyst, or Manager...

And yet, there is that thing. Existing. Making money for the company that created it. Think about the billions of dollars that flow across the internet everyday; all by, for, and through things that were designed to be that way. Is it all good? Heck no. Would the internet, or physical products, or services, or system-structures be better if there were trained1 “big-D” Designers on staff? You bet your thing of value that you're likely not to lose because it's a good bet!

All the stuff you see around you was made, on purpose, by people trying their best with the skills and constraints they had available. They made choices. They designed. It's been going on for a long time now. Probably as long as people have been around. Because of our many perspectives, we might look at what they've done as Engineering, or Making, or Design, or Business, or basic problem-solving, or mistakes best undone for the betterment of humanity.

Everyone designs. Everyone designs better when they understand deeply what they are doing, how they do it, and, most importantly, why they do it. Which is my definition of someone whose role and responsibility is Design.

Speaking of understanding deeply...

There are some good things available to most that range in ease-of-entry. I'm only listing things I have experience with, but, in rough order of ease:

  • Hello Web Design by Tracy Osborn. This book is a great intro to design for the web. There's some information in it that can be applied outside the web, too! Also, Tracy is awesome.
  • Practical Service Design by Megan Erin Miller and Erik Flowers. Technically they are competitors of mine (not that there isn't a lot of room in this space), but Megan and Erik are, in the vernacular, killing it. They also have a slack you can join and ask questions, which are welcomed by the community.
  • Mapping Experiences by Jim Kalbach. Excellent introduction to methods, tools, and deliverables that help you get a better understanding of the people for whom you design.
  • Studio VO by, oh, hey, that's me. Yes, I am happy to teach you about how to design better. Not visual design though. You don't want me drawing things other than in Discovery sessions. My stick-figures are par excellence.
  • Center Centre by Leslie Jensen-Inman and Jared Spool. This is a much higher bar to entry than the other items on the list, but it looks like a fantastically run program that gives access to practical experience. File under: If you have the means...

Ultimately...

There are far more interesting and useful things to argue about on Twitter. Or anywhere, really. It's probably a better use of our time and everyone else's if we ask ourselves three things first, then, if the answer is yes to all three, ask also how best we can help move people forward.

Move people forward to less frustration, pain, anger, and loss. Move people forward toward more stability, dignity, love, and time.

Those are things worth arguing about.


1 It's an entirely useful thing to argue, debate, plan, and solve for how Designers are trained. Most of the formal training I've seen is sub-par and doesn't beat on-the-job, in-context experience. That said, Design is a biiiiig bucket and good Designers don't always come from the usual suspects of educational backgrounds.