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Designing is Dreaming in Action

Even the most experienced senior designers need a reminder of the limitless possibilities of design and the priorities of our profession every now and then. This post is meant to give all us designers a little boost.

We need to keep our priorities in order:  Design is a service, to our clients and to the people those clients serve. Design for the love of design and the good of people and the planet, not for money. It is fine to get paid—and paid well—for your design work, but if that is the only reason you do it you are in the wrong field. Find joy in your designs, do what needs to be done, and the money you need will follow. 

 Picture: The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Quotation: Lyric from “Windpower”, on the 1982 album The Golden Age of Wireless, by Thomas Dolby.

Keep dreaming:  Design to make the world better in any way you can imagine. Design is powerful. Design solves problems. There are no small projects. Every design can bring positive change to the world, even if it means making one dark corner of a shelf a little brighter and little more positive.  Our job is to offer clients opportunities they have not yet seen.

 For some designers this will mean getting involved with politics.  Though it isn’t necessary for every designer to consider the political side of things, it is often the only way to get things done.  So do not shy away from it, or think it is not your responsibility. "If you don't do politics, politics will do you."

Remember that the future will not design itself:  We are responsible for how the future will look and feel. If we do not design it, it will be “designed” for us by politicians and businessmen according to their priorities an their needs. Us designers guide humanity into the future; all else, including politicians and businessmen, should follow.  

Selfie with the “Fearless Girl”, near the “Bull of Wallstreet” in NYC.

Make your designs memorable:  Design will not remember itself.  So always ask, Is my design memorable? Is it iconic enough to become part of the tapestry, the fabric, of someone’s life?

How well do people remember a design?  Above are 150 people's drawings of Starbuck's logo from memory. See drawings of 9 more famous logos here. The more simple, more essential, the logo, the better the memory.

ASK: Would someone want to take selfie with my design and post it on Social Media? (If not, start over, these are the times we are living in, and clients love the free publicity from selfie posts.)

And if you still have time here are a few other things I remind myself of often:

You do not need permission to:

  • Dream, dream big and dream small. In a dream there are no boundaries, time does not exist and anything is possible.
  • Play and don’t edit yourself, your clients will do that for you.
  • Have fun. If you have fun your designs are likely to give people joy.  People pay to have fun, they don’t pay to have a boring or bad time (at least not on purpose).
  • Move outside the boundaries of what is traditionally thought of as the domain of design (see next list below). These days all designs are more than visual.
  • Design experiences.  There are five senses, design for all of them, and for interaction with people. People still feel lonely, if a design helps them connect with other people it will be loved.
  • Uncover and expose opportunities for your clients, and for their customers.
  • Understand and solve complex problems.
  • Reimagine “business”.  Business can be human, positive, helpful, and good for everyone.  It can.
  • Speak up, tell people (and your clients!) what you have discovered. Shout if you have to.
  • Start small.  You do not have to come up with a world changing design like the iPod right now; you might, but it is also ok to start with making one corner of one shelf prettier.
  • Design as if gravity doesn't exist. In other words, forget what you have been told is impossible.
  • Don't be afraid. It's ok to be nervous, but never be afraid.  No progress comes without risk, and there is not a person who has ever lived who has not embarrassed themselves many times.  
  • And If you feel you do need permission to do any of these, then you are in the wrong company or school.
Biomimicry is a fascinating avenue of design that is rapidly growing, it focuses not he wisdom of Natures hudreds of millions of years of "design" trial and error.

Always look for new avenues of design inspiration: 

  • Don’t start with Google, that automatically steers you in already-travels directions.  Dream first, Google later.
  • Start with people.  Design is for people, so ask people and LISTEN to their replies. They are not a target, and resent being a target. If you want people to love your design, then love the people you design for.
  • Biomimicry, a field that looks to the “wisdom” of evolution for design inspiration. Nature has found endless ingenious ways to attract and generate passion, what more could you want for a package or brand design?
  • Origami is a huge trend in design, from packaging to architecture. Fold some recycled paper!
Sometimes biomimicry and origami influence design together. 

Don’t sit still:

  • It is all happening now, not in the future. Not tomorrowNow. 
  • "Stay a beginner." - Steve Jobs. Harder than it sounds, but if you keep moving it is easy, because there is so much going on, so much to learn.
  • Technology, as it always has, is changing how we do everything, but now faster than ever. 
  • Notice how interconnected everything is becoming, the Internet of Things is upon us, design for interconnection.
  • All categories of design—graphic, brand, tech, interface, industrial, digital, architectural, political, systems, et al—are merging into a segments of a single field; if you focus too narrowly your skills will not be viable.
  • Options for designers are rapidly outpacing what can be taught in design schools, universities and colleges; You must continually be learning in real time.

                                                         Fuck gravity.

We have a responsibility to:

  • Understand that design affects real people in real places in real time. Put your self in the users shoes.  Put your self in the users' children's shoes. Think generations ahead.
  • Be aware of cognitive overload and design to make people’s lives more simple. Essentialism.
  • Listen, to people, their complaints, their ideas
  • Make things more beautiful, even if it is just one small corner of one shelf in one store.
  • Make things less complicated. Everyone is overloaded.  Help them get what they need faster.
  • Make the future possible, meaning consider how your work will effect future generations.
  • Design for universality; Universal Design seeks to include everybody—male, female, transgender, young, old, blind, def, mobility challenged—and it has been shown and such designs appeal to a wider spectrum of people.
  • Design for democracy; Design can be used for good or evil, don't be Albert Speer.

Nelson Mandela did what they said was impossible.  He helped bring down the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

Ok, so that's how I remind myself what's important. Now back to work!

A Podcasts: 

TED Radio Hour: The Power Of Design

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