One designer is not like the other

I posted this on LinkedIn and Google+ last night:

For every designer whom most of their peers respect, there’ll be one disgruntled designer out there who will talk crap about them. Just goes to show that — like in many professions — everyone has their own unique approach, their strengths and weaknesses … which like a jigsaw puzzle works if paired with the right project, the right client and the right challenge.

The very best designers in the world will flounder in the wrong context (in my opinion it seems to be when experience and in-depth knowledge meets very superficial faux design opportunities … lipstick on a pig to use a despised cliché)

I’ve since thought more about this and want to explore the idea of the practical application of designer idiosyncrasies and latent specialisation in more detail.

While the quoted observation was based on what I’ve heard people say about other world-renowned designers it’s true that I have my own cynics whom I’ve worked with in the past.

This is a response from Ken Beatson — who I worked with at LeftClick in 2011 — when I asked for a reference:

I wish you the best of luck in moving back to Aussie but I can’t in all honesty give you a positive endorsement.

That was pretty much out of the blue and I wasn’t expecting it (otherwise I wouldn’t have asked) but it goes to show that you can have dozens of people who think you’re good at your job … and there’ll be one who thinks quite the opposite.

Whilst Ken’s response was a bit of a shock, all I had to do was go through all the genuine and positive feedback employers, clients and co-workers have given me over the years to once again feel like I am doing a good job and have a good work ethic. Of course I admit and accept I have opportunities for improvement and as always I continue to learn, reflect and grow.

However it did highlight for me personally the fact that the design profession is not a cookie-cutter that churns out identical robots. We’re all different, we have different history and background, education, experiences, philosophy, strengths and weaknesses and those things give each and every one of us designers a unique perspective and approach to clients and design challenges.

Some designers are better at busywork and just churning out design artefacts without making any waves, others are good at diving in and putting everything on the line to make a real difference. Others can use their technical background to better liaise with technical staff and come up with “practical” solutions while others with no technical know-how aren’t constrained by what is and can come up with innovative ideas that may be expensive but pay off in the long run.

Some designers work better on their own, some as part of a team, some as consultants, some as freelancers and others as embedded … and there is a need for all those different types. Recruiting and utilising a designer is different to more standardised professions with clear outputs and in some ways the label “designer” is counter-productive.

I’m still trying to find my niche although working at acidlabs is the closest I’ve been to having affinity with the mode, ethics and philosophy of work, the freedom and responsibility, the complex social challenges that really get my cognitive gears turning and the outcomes-focused mandate that leaves me free to choose the appropriate techniques and tools … which is quite the opposite of my experience at LeftClick.

That’s not to say that I’m a shit designer or employee, or that LeftClick was a poorly-run and unethical agency to work for; it really is a jigsaw puzzle and you need to pair the right designer with the right job.

Not just any designer will do. Forget the “designer” category and search for the right person.

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