What Do You Do?
That is inevitably the first question to follow any business introduction. The questioner is looking for a short, concise response. No one wants a dissertation or a lengthy biography. What we do is all they need to know to understand how we relate to them and how to fit us into their box in their mind.
It’s always seemed a bit surface to me. When that question is posed to me, I generally respond with an off-color response, as the situation allows. Puzzled, the interrogator usually feels the need to clarify themselves by saying, “No. What do you do for a living?” I usually continue by telling them, “I herd cats”. Eventually I tell them that I am a designer. Other questions follow about what I design and where I design and how I design. Those answers don’t really help them in their quest to properly fit me into a box though. That’s because they are missing the answer to a fundamental question.
The better question: So, what is design?
It’s a question that even most designers fail to ask, and it robs them of the focus they need to be truly successful in their work. The reason this question is not asked is that most people assume they know the answer. Designers use color, layout, images, and other artists’ tools, so design is just a form of art. Everyone knows what art is, right? You can look at it this way, every person you know thought they were an artist at some point in their lives. Along the way most people stop considering themselves artists, but somewhere inside them is the idea that they understand art because they once created art (even if they were only 5 yrs old and their tools were crayons). Compare that to any other occupation, and you would be hard-pressed to find a similar situation. However, there is one serious problem with this assumption.
Design is not art.
People tend to confuse the two because similar tools and techniques are employed in both art and design. However, design is not about color, layouts, images, fonts, or applications. Yes, designers utilize artists’ tools, but the goal of the designer should never be some aesthetic ideal. Design is not a form of self-expression. Design is not art.
So, once again. What is design?
A design is a plan that is followed to achieve a result. It is a solution to a communication problem. When you break it all down to the most fundamental point, design is communication. That’s it. A client needs to communicate a message to an audience. The designer’s role is to assimilate all of the information about their client and their client’s target audience and to develop a plan for how best to disseminate information. Our designs facilitate that communication, and our designs enable our clients to meet their goals.
In reality, business is complex, and business communication is complex. The messages that businesses are trying to communicate and the goals they are trying to achieve often run in different directions at different speeds. Businesses don’t need pretty pictures and fancy functionality. They need someone to wrangle, organize and present their messages to their client in a clear and effective way. Meeting that need is effective design. Focusing on meeting that need makes you an effective designer.
So, what do I do?
I herd cats. That may not help me fit in a box, but it’s the easiest way to describe what I do.