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Design vs. design, a simple misunderstanding

When people ask what I do for a living, I usually say “web designer”. Unfortunately, after years of calling myself such a thing, it’s finally hit me that what people hear is not what I want them to hear…at least not entirely.

I want to solve the puzzle, not create the pieces
I want to solve the puzzle, not create the pieces

Being a designer is different than being an artist

When most people hear “designer” they simply think it’s the person that makes things pretty. In some cases that’s true, but more so being a designer means solving a problem…it means designing a solution. And when I say “problem” I don’t mean something that’s broken or needs repaired, a “problem” is just something that needs to get done.

As a designer, I design solutions. Sure, part of that process is aesthetics (ie, making it pretty), but that’s just one part of the recipe. Other parts of solutions include how people will use it, how it gets delivered, how it communicates and to some extent, even how it will make money. I love worrying and thinking about everything that goes into solving a problem. Funny enough, however, the part I like least is the creating the pretty eye candy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like figuring out the pretty parts but I don’t like creating the elements that make up those parts. I don’t create graphics, I really don’t like the process. Plus, I’m not very good at it and the time needed to get good at it has passed. All of that boils down to hunting and gathering. I don’t want to mess around with finding the resources, I just want them to be there and I want them to work when I need them. I know what I want to see and I know how I want it to work…and I can usually accomplish 75% of it on my own.

Eye candy, not what I enjoy doing
Eye candy, not what I enjoy doing

Designing is organizing, and organizing is the fun part

It doesn’t matter if I’m working with web sites, video games, toy cars or even working in the yard…it’s all the same. I’m designing a solution. It’s not just worrying about how the final product looks visually.  And if I think about it hard enough, this is probably why I seemingly rarely finish any of my pet hobby projects. I get excited about the idea…I get excited about the process…but I get turned off when I have to create the pieces I need to finish my puzzle. Just give me the parts and I’ll assemble them.

So when I say I “design” web sites, I’m not creating the images, photos, video, sounds or even choosing the colors you see. I’m designing the solution that uses all these parts to create a final product. Being a designer is being an organizer. I’m organizing all the parts so they solve a given problem.

Ask me to create a picture for you and I’ll be unhappy. Ask me to solve a problem for you, and I’ll revel in the challenge and deliver a great product. But I want to spend the time using my hammer and nails…I don’t want to forge my own nails.


  1. Don The Idea Guy Don The Idea Guy December 30, 2010

    Perhaps you should create a better title for yourself?
    Digital Architect?
    Web Construction Worker?
    Microsite Manufacturer?

    Whatever it is you decide to call it — you are very good at it, my friend!

  2. JuanO JuanO December 31, 2010

    Dude. You need to get out of my head.

  3. Brian Brian January 1, 2011

    Hmmm…I’m not sure if the title is really the issue. Sure, that’s what people translate into job duties, but anything more complicated than “web designer” and it requires a lot of explanation, which I’d rather avoid as well.

    It’s just the word “design” that needs to start meaning more than simply visual appearance. When there’s an accident on the freeway and the police have to re-route traffic…that’s solution that has been designed, but people don’t think as that as design. Traffic light patterns have been designed…mall layouts have been designed, but it’s not all about looks. It’s about how it works.

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