On becoming a designer

I've become passionate about design. It's a subtle craft that says something, things that can't normally be said with words. It suggests things. It implores us to think in a particular way. It encourages us to go here or there. It is enough of a metaphor to be easily recognized, but not so much that it becomes tacky, unless of course tacky is the thing you need. Design is the artful side of craftsmanship, the soul of a thing.

I was talking about design the other day with a friend. “How do I get into design,” he asks? He already has the passion for design, he sees design, but he lacks the processes for finding, honing, and pushing designs along into to production.

How do you get into design? You need to see it first. Feel it. Then you do it. Again, and again, and again. Floundering, failing, and fumbling your way through at first. Is there any other way to learn to ride? To swim? It's a craft that requires balance and grace, and some amount of time to learn to execute well. And that's okay.

How do you get into design indeed! Find your passion, as it fuels the process. Passion is simple too: focus your frustration, awe, and excitement for a thing into a narrow band of optimism and spunk. It can always be better, and it can always be solved. It's just a matter of seeing it, boiling it down, and then actually doing it.

Passion starts with comprehending that a thing isn't working well enough. Then you imagine what it could be, what else has been done—-what hasn't been done yet—-and let your mind iterate over the possibilities. You eat. You sleep. You shower. You read. And at some point you see it, as if it were magic.

You'll see many visions of what it should be (many of them good). Later you'll learn which visions are better, and which are worth chasing after. But find your passion first, then learn to listen to it, to ignore it when it's wrong, and to trust it when it's onto something.

An example

I love reading. Great inspiration can be found by streaming in the things other people write. Books are especially excellent, as the format turns out thoughtful, polished experiences. Buying and finding books, on the other hand, is something I often find frustrating. It's an investment of time and money that can result in a growing pile of carefully bound recycling. Books you feel compelled to keep (but likely will never read to completion).

Now there are bookstores and libraries that make finding books a better experience. You know the sort, comfortable chairs, brilliant selection, and a staff that know the product and who love to read. These shops are gems.

Enter Amazon.com. It's a store with incredible potential. A huge collection of titles. Reasonable shipping, easy book downloads, and a sturdy site to run it all. But it doesn't work well and it's not very inspiring.

My favourite book store isn't much to look at, but it's organization is incredible. The shelves were built by the owners in a way that showcases the right books, providing an archive for depth, all while being easy to navigate. The owners themselves are avid readers, having read most everything I've asked them about. They haven't just read most of their inventory, they usually know exactly where it is or when they'll get it in next. And if you want a recommendation, they remember what you've read so that their recommendations are only a few steps from clairvoyant.

Amazon isn't much to look at either. In fact it's downright noisy. Dozens of things mashed into every page, making it difficult to find what you want. While their selection of print books is excellent, many of the books are not available for download. The result is an experience that isn't fun or inspiring. In fact, I often avoid it until I'm absolutely out of reading material.

Amazon could be so much more. It should be the comfy bookstore you want to browse. It should be the eclectic owners, their pristine organization, and the recommendations that leave you wondering if someone knows just a bit too much about you. It should be effortless, not leaving you wondering if something will be available for your mobile device in your region. It should feel like the perfect bookstore, melting away to trade your money for a lifelong experience of losing one's self between the pages of whatever turns your crank.

But it isn't. Buying books online is mostly worse than queuing up at your local mega mart, innundated with impulse items, inexperienced staff, and bright, over-saturated displays and lighting. Limp, uninspired, grating a bit on your nerves. You shop there when you have to, but the result is uninspired.

The first part of design describes that feeling, the way a thing should be front to back. The real world things it needs to bring to you, to make you feel. And the real bits of functionality that it absolutely must have.

The second part of design is in describing and making it happen, but that is something best talked about after digesting the first part. So go on, digest.