Designers as thinkers

Why (I believe) the best designers I know of are also great thinkers

When you first attend design school, you are advised to forget these tiny but overused phrases “I like this/ I don’t like that”. Guess what: no one cares what you like if you are about to be taught the basics of your design profession. You need to become able to make design choices and defend those choices against various -internal and external- parameters. You quickly realize that in order to do that you have to develop strong argument building skills.

This is a prerequisite for your professional life, because if you are going to argue about design choices, you are going to need arguments. Quite obvious. But liking or disliking is no argument. It is a feeling. Feelings are of major importance when it comes to choosing what you like to wear today, or what you like to have for dinner. However, professional design services cannot be built upon feelings, yours or other people’s. Professional services need arguments and proof.

Liking or disliking cannot be argued. It is a verdict. It will eliminate creative discussion and may even allow for hiding one’s luck of knowledge and understanding. Liking or disliking works against the creative project, thus against both the designers’ and the clients’ interests.

You, the designer, can help prevent “liking” take over, by learning to provide discussions with a direction. To do that, you will first learn to ask yourself many “why’s” and “what if’s”. Why this color and not the other, why this way and not the other, why this concept and not the other. What is the purpose of adding that and what would happen if I remove this. Why choose this and what is the reason for rejecting that? What is the hierarchy of things and how do I make a comprehensive visual representation of it? Why why why what how why why what.

In time, you learn to question your way of acting and your very way of thinking. You learn to identify your own patterns of behavior, and how these may support or block your creative profession. You may even learn to see yourself from an outer perspective. And once you see, you can’t un-see.

Do you realize where this gets you? If you have decided to be a designer for a living, your decision will be tested against your will to see things from different points of view, all the time. To observe, analyze, mentally arrange and re-arrange, deconstruct and reconstruct. Your profession of choice encourages a constantly active, curious and critical mindset.

The mindset of a thinker.

An idealist and a realist using the language of the poet and the businessman. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems, but his fantasy is boundless
-Laszlo Moholy-Nagy for Paul Rand

first published on Medium