Too much Asimov

  • NUS Researcher: What would happen if people can live forever?
  • Me: Overpopulation leading to a push into space. Colonization of other planets.
  • NUS Researcher: (pause) Ok, next question...

There’s a lot of people that design in order to express themselves. I, on the other hand, design to solve problems.

The following is a summary of a talk I gave recently at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design & Media.

Why design? It’s an important question because it guides us in what we do every day. It’s why we get up in the morning to go to work. It’s the reason why we put up with bad times and celebrate the good times. I think it’s a fundamental question that every designer should figure out.

Why do we design? This question can be rephrased like this: as an industry or as a professional designer, what is the value of our work? What is the value of design?

the success of a design is defined by the economics of the work. Good design is profitable, because finances help see that design endures… design is equal parts art and commerce

– Frank Chimero. “The Shape of Design.”

Frank Chimero is one of my favourite writers on design, and I’ve read his book three times. He posits that the value of design is driven by economic forces – design is the intersection of art and commercial interests. If you can solve someone’s business problem, he will pay you for it. The better you are at it, the higher you get paid. It’s simple economics.

Designers get this. It’s the reason why a lot of good communication designers work in media companies and ad agencies. There’s the promise of awards if you do good work, and the more awards you have, the higher the salary you can command. Graduates from design schools dream of becoming the youngest creative director in history.

If it’s so great, why are there so many who work in advertising miserable? There a select few who are fantastic at writing clever copy and funny ads that sell products, but the majority of the people I know absolutely hate their job.

Is there something more to it?

Design seeks to create experiences in addition to being profitable, so the price and profit of the work represent only part of its value.

– Frank Chimero. “The Shape of Design.”

What other value does design have besides commercial interests?

Let’s go back to the basics: what is design? At the most fundamental level, design is the process of using creativity to solve problems. It then follows that there are many different types of problems that design can solve. There are real problems, and there are “first world problems”.

What are the problems worth solving? This video will show you what I mean.

The video shows apps that developers have made for health care and preserving culture. It’s evidence of the meaningful problems out there that designers can apply ourselves to.

In summary, we design to solve meaningful problems. To make somebody’s life better. With the tech industry’s increasing appreciation for design, we’re in a better position than ever before to make a difference.

Microframe Template

A microframe is a 200px wide wireframe. Provides just enough information while staying fast to build.

Click the link for the PSD. Also check out these discussions on Dribbble: