artist // designer // entrepreneur

Being More than a Designer.

I'm often asked what it is that I do and to my demise I say I'm a designer. This is inaccurate because I'm no designer. It has nothing to do with being ashamed of being a designer or anything like that. It's the fact that I don't feel like I want to be labeled or placed in a box. It's limits what you can do. It limits people's perspective of you as well. While being in Silicon Valley, I've learnt that working at a startup requires you to be more than a designer, more than a usability expert but also a product developer. Big thinking and ability to see the overarching vision is what makes you more valuable.

Many designers say, "I'm a web designer". It's probably better to just say 'designer' because when anyone asks, "what do you design", the answer can be "anything!". I like to think of myself as a creative because creativity can be applied to anything: design, product strategy, branding, business and product development and so on. This is a label that gives creatives the ability to think outside the box and apply their unique perspective of the world to everything outside of visuals.

If one were to study Steve Jobs who sadly passed away, we'd realize this. He wasn't a hands on designer doing masterpieces but yet the world hails him a creative genius. I feel this is what all designers should aspire to. I don't know html/css. I can't code in Ruby and while I did illustrations, I cannot create a masterpiece today. It certainly doesn't mean I cannot aspire to accomplish what Steve Jobs did, that is, apply creative thinking to product, business, retail, etc.

Garry Tan, founder of Posterous and resident designer at YCombinator said it best:

The thing that's always been valuable to me is to not box myself in as "I'm a designer, I'm an engineer. I'm a business person". These labels are fairly arbitrary and limits us. As early stage founders the most important thing is to transcend these roles because if you don't edificate yourself on these various aspects, how can you put together yet alone manage a team of creatives.

I find this to be true which is why when people often ask what I do, I will no longer be saying 'designer'. The ironic thing is that 'designer' in itself is vague so saying 'creative' is even more vague. Often I visit portfolios and there's mobile designer, icon designer, web designer, etc as their headline. These are skills, much of which many individuals hone so I think every designer's ultimate goal should be to learn every area of design as much as they can. I will admit that when I say 'designer' the follow-up question is then, "what type of design?". I dislike saying 'UI/UX' which admittedly I do because it's what Silicon Valley understands and values these days. But I am convinced that creatives is a better label if we must.

Take Joe Ducet for instance, a prolific designer whose portfolio covers brand design, product design, furniture design and web design. I couldn't label him with anything but designer but given his creativity, it certainly can be applied to anything else. These people perfectly fit into what Tim Brown at Ideo calls 'design thinkers'.

If you find that all you can say for yourself is that you're a 'web designer' because it's what you specialize in, then you're only making yourself one dimensional. However gaining knowledge, even expertise in other areas of design like identity, print or product design for example becomes a valuable asset. All these experiences help give a deeper meaning and appreciation to design. Some would call this being a student of design. For myself, I'd like to up the ante and become a student of creativity.

Take for example, last year I worked with Goodmorning Technology, a design firm in Denmark, on product design. Being a part of that process has given be a deeper and better understanding of design. Product design deals very much with usability and user experience like interface design but the perspective is quite different in the fact that it's so tangible. This observation allowed me to appreciate Apple's design approach of making a lot of their apps look like the real-world objects. Achieving that, makes it feel tangible thus creating a much better experience than if it were digital. I speak of the notepad with the paper tears at the top or iBook with the stack of pages as if it were a real book.

Steve Jobs in my opinion was a student of creativity and because of this he was able to apply it to different industries thus revolutionizing them.

In most cases, I would have advocated 'designer' as a label but today, I proclaim my aspiration to be more. To be a student of creativity, a design thinker. Click to tweet.