Debunking Design Myths: from a student’s perspective.

I don’t think design is complicated, it’s about making things which work. The vast range of applications for design - from objects and messages, to actions and constructs - results in design seeming ambiguous and sometimes troublesome to define. In my opinion, this ambiguity generates a multitude of cascading opinions and beliefs surrounding design, some of which are at odds with producing good design work efficiently.

As students of architecture we are thrown into the design world with nothing but pen and paper, and are required to fend for ourselves in the hope that by the time we graduate we would have separated the misapprehension regarding design from the elemental facts which make up the design process. This is not to say that we are not aided throughout our journey to enlightenment. Tutors play an increasingly important role in our education, but they are not there to teach us ‘Design’ rather they provide us with the tools required to discover design for ourselves. It is a lonely journey design students embark upon, most of which is shrouded by uncertainty and inconsequential fact.

Most students embark on this journey with extremely unrealistic ideologies, even myths, about design. For example, almost all students (including myself) once believed that design is in most ways related to art. Walk through any bookstore and you’ll find the Design section sandwiched among all the art books. (The Business section may be on a whole other floor, although I believe it has more to do with design than art typically does). It is understandable that there would be this misconception, since both vocations deal with perception – often visual – but they are incongruous. Everyone will agree that art is explorative. Whether it’s Duchamps pushing the boundaries of taste, Tarantino reshaping the narrative, or Christo reframing public space, all art explores what might be possible. Now imagine some designed products: a poster advertising yoga lessons, an insurance renewal form, or the assembly instructions for a toy – Is it an issue how innovative an approach the designer took? I believe not. Each of these designed items fulfills a functional requirement. The visual treatments applied lend support, but shouldn’t distract from the content. Don’t get me wrong; Innovative approaches can lead to good design implementations, it’s just that I don’t believe that innovation is design’s principle concern. Whether a designed object is innovative, unexpected, or interesting may bear little consequence: It just needs to work!

Another very common misconception about design is that originality exists. Consider billions of people with the same motivations, following the same basic patterns, consuming the same media, In spite of this sameness, design students still fantasize that each person is capable of, even entitled to, original thought. Right. It is hard to say how often a genius thought emerges from the design world. I believe that a designer would be lucky to have one in a lifetime. Thus, expecting them daily, and banking your career on them, seems rather unwise. Despite these negative odds, we see new innovations occurring on a daily basis: perhaps originality is somewhat of an elusive concept, and doesn’t classify as a principle factor of design. It is my belief that humans are excellent remix artists, taking ideas from one another and rebuilding them, designers do this more than anyone. They assess, construct and run multiple variations and iterations: none of this occurs in a vacuum of originality. Instead of trying to be original, I think it is our duty as designers to fully assess the situation at hand, and iterate and improve upon previous solutions in the existing world. Thus, design, and consequently the human race, can evolve.

At one time I thought I wanted to be an exciting designer who made work that got attention. Now, I just want to be a good designer and practice my trade as best I can; turn heads because of the mastery I would have achieved. In doing so, I believe that I will come to deserve the trust my clients will one day place in me.