Design + ?

And the winner of Best Supporting Actress goes to… Design.

To design something is to respond to a situation. It could be a problem, a desire, a need — whatever the context, it is never a vacuum. Good designers are good at figuring out those “situations”. They pay attention to the nuances of what’s going on and they make things in response to all that they see. It’s not about what they make though — it’s about what they see, because making without seeing is just arbitrary.

Design, then, is about learning to see. It’s about looking past the obvious to see something more essential. It’s about reframing what seems apparent to invigorate it anew. Once you’ve seen something from a new perspective, ideas about how to respond materialise, so that you bump into them as if they were there all along. But focussing on the ideas alone is like ignoring the ocean that surrounds the iceberg and enables it to float. That ocean is the crucial context — without which an iceberg cannot exist.

Design is not an industry. It’s a way of thinking (and doing) that can impact every other industry. Design for it’s own sake — design that is about anything other than the situation wherein it exists — is, well, not really design. It’s only arbitrary making, more like something my 6 month old might do with a pen and a page of paper.

What is the context of your work? Are you in healthcare, or banking, or fashion, or mobility, or something that doesn’t quite fall into conventional categories? The key to being a great designer is to immerse yourself in that context. Lose yourself in that ocean so that it shapes your intuitions and ideas. But as you do, pay careful attention to what you take for granted and what people are really doing. What seems obvious and conventional may in fact be misleading. There’s almost always more going on beneath the waterline.