I’m writing this in the hopes of helping out other students figure out what design means to them. My journey of figuring out what design means to me has been an important one and if I could help anyone on theirs, I would be happy to do so. So, this article is about defining design. My very first definition was, “I get paid to make pretty pictures.” This didn’t last long and it turned into “I make ads that I would want to hang up on my wall.” I had sat on that one for awhile, but currently I think of design as more problem solving than just a nice looking ad.
Like I wrote, when people asked me what I was going to school for and had to describe what graphic design was, to simplify I would say “I make pretty pictures.” I was bombarded with posters, ads, commercials, and magazine covers that amazed me and I wanted to make things like that. So I tried to make things that were pleasing to the eye. The problem that I ran into was I felt that I wasn’t just making pretty pictures, that’s art. I was learning how to sell products and ideas. This allowed my definition of design to change and become the idea that I’m selling something and it should be nice enough for me to want to hang it up on a wall.
After some time thinking about design being ads that I wouldn’t mind hanging up on wall, I started to do a lot of research for my work. And by researching I was exposed to a lot of great design and I was building my vocabulary in the process. I spent most of my class sketching and flipping though the small little library in my classroom. I realized that I was supposed to communicate something to the person looking at my work, not just show something looking amazing and hope they remember it. So, instead of worrying just about what a person saw, I had to think equally about what I was saying as well. I didn’t always get it right but this was a big leap forward in my thinking and understanding of design.
My late sophomore/early junior year is where design as problem solving clicked for me. I had been doing some intensive work for school and decided to also immerse myself in the world design; I read books, listened to podcasts, went to conferences and I took as much in as I could. With all this exposure the idea of design was constantly being discussed. A design wasn’t just a poster that sold shoes, it could also be a poster that brought awareness of a need for shoes. And the definition of what a designer was was also expanded upon; It wasn’t just people who did web or print or motion, it was people who saw a problem and tried to fix that problem. The idea that design isn’t about making things pretty or selling products but about defining a problem and figuring out how to best fix it was such an amazing thought to me.
Since then, I’ve been wanting to do something that matters. I want to help make the world better through my design. I know this is an extreme approach to the idea, but the beauty of this definition is that it works for a wide range of things, from selling goods to saving lives. It can be described and interpreted in many different ways and it’s not limiting. David McCandless gave my favorite definition of what design is in a TED talk, he said, “Design is about solving problems and providing elegant solutions…” I think that sums up what we should want to achieve as any type of designer.
What did design school teach you about design? What does design mean to you? Leave your experiences or thoughts on this topic in the comments section below!
Joseph Serrani is a senior at the Robert Busch School of Design at Kean University. He loves talking about & critiquing design. His favorite glyph is the ampersand.