I’ve been enjoying Discovery’s new show, Unchained Reaction, quite a bit. It’s a fantastic showcase of creativity, ingenuity, and prototyping. I just watched the most recent episode, which pitted a team of construction contractors against a team of “designers”. They didn’t say what types of designers they were, but the show’s editors made a point of communicating that the team members specified designs for other people to implement; they didn’t know how to build anything themselves. Much of this exposition came from the designers’ own mouths. Meanwhile, the manly men of the opposing team bragged about how efficient they are at building things. They would build big, playing on their strengths.
Of course, this was a dramatic setup, but being a designer, it really struck home for me. I was immediately on the defensive, routing for my team “against all odds”. The cameras portrayed the designers standing around a whiteboard, planning out an elaborate narrative, while the contractors got to work building stuff. During the first test of their opening mechanism, one of the designers loudly proclaimed their success at failing, clearly branding himself as a member of our tribe. In the end, both teams did outstanding jobs, demonstrating admirable creativity and inventiveness. I’m happy to say that the designers were quite capable of building what they designed, and they won, but that’s beside the point.
Designers have accrued a formidable stigma. We’re armchair generals in fancy clothes. There may have always been a little of this perception, but I think it is on the rise. Graphic designers created things with their own hands. Sure, it had to go to a printer for mass production, but there was a craft, materials, and specialized tools. Industrial designers still have the physical component of materials, but most graphic designers are working entirely digitally now. Interaction designers are in an even worse position, because most of us don’t have the skills necessary to realize our designs.
There has been a push lately for designers to learn to code. That’s certainly one approach, and I’m all for it, assuming you have mastered design, but I propose a less-specific movement:
Learn to create!