In collusion

Design talk is popular these days. It seems a bit of a fad, really. Still, I’m a designer. Have been, for eight years. Maybe longer if you count all the designery habits I already had, before design school and design job. So, food for thought:

Dan Saffer, today on A Brief Message, starts a lively discussion on design “making” versus design “thinking.” I don’t know that designers are being “told” to stop making design, though I do admit that a) many people think our work serves no purpose-and that we are annoying, and b) a lot of the “making” work we do is so redundant and wrought with unrealistic deadlines that we ourselves would rather not do it. Whole software industries are being developed to remove some of these steps from our lives, for better or for worse.

But if the world is really starting to listen to what designers have to say, hooray. Designers (of all flavors: industrial, software, furniture, graphic, interactive, etc.) were put on this planet to solve problems, so they really should be the aware ones with ideas.

I then moved a little further down my design feed list to The Design Observer, which today brings a compelling discussion about how designers should apply their skills and their efforts. This question is posed, “How should the design community respond if the U.S. Army asked us to join teams to do ‘service design’ projects in Afghanistan?”

My immediate reaction is to go to the design definition I recently found (notably the 17th definition, if you pull it up on, but hey, it’s the last one, so I consider it definitive): “adaptation of means to a preconceived end.” If you’ve got a talent and something can benefit from it, you should apply and nurture that talent and get paid well for the work. This argument, in turn, always brings me to a scene in Terminator 2, when the black engineer realizes that all his excellent and hard work to develop a fantastic machine… has brought (or will bring) worldwide ruin. And this is where as a designer I do feel like evaluating my work on an ethical scale. Or, at the very least, finding something to do with the rest of my time that balances things out in terms of karma.

And then, via one of the discussion contributors to the above, I was treated to a terrifically entertaining video about… job and career choices, let’s just say. I laughed, I cried. What does it all mean? You play it by ear. Then, prepare your résumé…

Last night at the climbing gym I had a discussion with a friend who does some substitute teaching. The prior day she’d subbed an entire day with a particularly difficult group of kids. Kids who were rude, if not mean, to her, and kids who didn’t want to be there. The whole day was an exercise in patience, additionally because one of the subjects she had to teach wasn’t one she has a real passion for. That kind of day posed a real challenge to her because it really made her wonder if her work mattered, if it made a difference.

Our discussion moved on to her music; lately she’s been performing -singing, and playing a guitar- at a few open-mic nights at local coffeehouses. She’s terrific: she has a lovely voice, her fingers make lovely sounds with the guitar, and she’s written some beautiful songs. But in the last few days she’s been feeling less confident about her art, wondering why she’s even bothering. I asked her if the “bad days” while sub teaching seem to affect her confidence about her music, and she said yes, probably they do.

Balance, tolerance, degrees, are what it’s about. Constant re-evaluation. Thinking. Once a designer (me), always a designer.