Everyone can design. Not everyone is a designer.
The following was originally posted as a Twitter thread in June, 2019. I happened to stumble across it and figured it deserved a proper blog post.
When I was younger, I thought I wanted to be in marketing, because it was fun to come up with clever tag lines and promotional gimmicks. Then I learned that that stuff was just a tiny sliver of what marketing pros actually do.
Marketing, as a job, is mostly spreadsheets, data analysis, emails, meetings, meetings, and more meetings. In fact, the clever tag lines and promotional gimmicks might even be outsourced.
But the good marketers are the ones who don’t run away from that grunt work, but rather jump into it headfirst, power through it, and even relish it. It’s the same thing with design. If you attended a brainstorming meeting and sketched out a wireframe, you designed!
Did you then break that design into reusable components, document them, and plan their implementation via a set of iterative user stories? Did you attend grooming sessions, kickoff meetings, and daily stand-ups to see all that stuff to fruition?
Did you send 50 emails, Slack posts, and chat messages clarifying the finer details of your designs, and did you collaborate with developers to explore alternative designs because the tech stack doesn’t support your original idea, or the time and budget didn’t allow for it?
Don’t get me wrong. Everyone can design. Everyone can be a part of the process. I tell junior designers “your job is not to create the ideal design but to select it. In fact, you should only create a new design if you can’t find it somewhere else”. Ego has no place in design.
So, can everyone design? Yes. Can everyone be a designer? Yes. To me, the real debate is about whether there is a place in industry for dedicated designers, or can our responsibilities just be divvied up among others?
To that, I say HELL YES, there is a place for us. There is a place for us because we are the ones who are actually passionate about the 90% of the job that no one else even THINKS of as design. That is what makes a successful designer.
And that’s what I think is hitting such a nerve with us folks in the trenches. Our career is not just the fun parts. We put blood, sweat, and tears into learning tools and techniques, and we master them the only way they can be mastered: constant, long-term practice.
If you put words on a page, you are a writer. But you’re not a published author. That shit goes way beyond stringing words together and is hard. It’s the exact same thing with design, except we don’t have the right words for it.
I welcome anyone and everyone to participate in the design process where I work. I welcome critique from anywhere. I want others to design, to be designers, if you will. But always with the knowledge that those inputs will never be more than 10% of what I output.
I do the boring stuff, the tedious stuff. I do the necessary stuff to turn “designs” into real shipping products. As a dedicated designer, that is your primary responsibility. If you want to become a dedicated designer, know that that is your true responsibility.
And for God’s sake, if you are a dedicated designer, know that you are valuable. Know that you are critical. Know that you are needed. Don’t let some purveyor of hot takes make you think you are replaceable, or that your role is meaningless. Keep the faith, my friends.