Reducing everything to its form

During my third year of high school, I used to loved illustration and comic. Although I didn’t know much about it, I downloaded and bought magazines, books, tutorials, anything that visually looked similar to the style of drawing. One day I ran a comic made by Jimmy Scott (a Chilean cartoonist), and I loved his hand. His stroke was freezy and beautiful white spaces. I started to like the politician humor that he made, and soon I arrived at Franco-Belgian comics.

After a year, kind of, I discovered the close relationship between design and advertising. Overall, the web was getting full of color thanks to ads. Beneath all that visual noise that was growing, the interfaces were ridding its tables and adopted a graphic order. The screen had more rhythm, and the content was not necessarily displayed at first glance. It was great that the digital world was bringing more visual components.

I entered to study graphic design for these two reasons. The truth is that everything I knew about design at that moment, was strongly influenced by comic and illustration. Then when I was during my second year, I started to take jobs as a freelancer: branding and printing mainly. And like every student, I faced the real world: different logic, a different rhythm, and a different treat with clients. My worse surprise was that all the analysis and building process of design was a not welcome practice. Almost every request that I received arrived with a specific form, and I just needed to build and deliver. Nothing else.

During a while, I became a make-up artist. Taking ideas and giving them form and color. In short lapses. “A yesterday deadline.” My fellows were in similar situations and noticing the same reality. The design was mainly a tool to give beauty to captivating messages. Our clients conceived the design, and the designers, as artists capable of providing beauty to something.

I started to get upset. And I demanded the petitions be inserted in a strategy, systems, or whatever that give it sense. All that requesting people had at least a metric way to validate my work. They were who built campaigns and products in an infoxication way instead of a clear message. Marketing won a sit in the industry and campaigns were its engine. It didn’t take much to set that thermometer; my friends were escaping from the same and exploring new design’s fields.

When I finished college, I decided not to work neither marketing nor advertising. I considered, and still do, my abilities within analyze and build systems, not execute something with an unknown origin. With time what bothered me was the no-difference between design and advertising. Later “publicity design” arrived and at least our new colleagues had more clarity about what does each field, despite all the components link us.

That got solved. The difference was made, and each discipline had its space. Ones were close to the building stage and the others to the selling stage. But no longer, the web design (the name we gave it during a while) faced needs related to the efficient use of resources, consistency among products and services, the way which teams were organized, not just the final user.

“Design thinking”

What was born in the digital now was spread to the real world, and the methodologies that were thought and implemented to create products and services, transported their essences to wider systems. Now design is not only a designers area, as if it was once, and invite new disciplines to be more involved in products and service definition.

It’s a great moment for design; it seeks to think and build collaboratively with users. What before was created in silos, now involve everyone. Were created new ways to shift conversations from endless-speeches into solution sessions, methodologies to diminish implementations costs, tools to check hypothesis, to bring different business views in a user context. We accelerated the growth, and technology, in general, started to humanize it.

And now, after a few years, it looks the logical step that companies had to give to understand that experiences are not an insignificant ingredient. We can apply the same logic to broader systems: the design of public policies, the design of communities, the design of future scenarios, and so on. Therefore the designer’s job is added to new challenges without losing its builder essence: give form to something.

“Design thinking is bullshit”

These tools came to order and define discussions. Nothing else. Which does not mean has no value, because that is precisely the battle within organizations. If the company’s teams are unable to collaborate with each other, the number of workshops worth nothing. It does not matter if we called it “service design” or “an action plan to resolve inner challenges.” Or is there anyone who believes that putting user’s pains onto a user journey model will show the truth never told before? If that outcome is not an input in any incoming step, then that work is not useful.

In that situation, these packers appear again. Those who think that post-its are the design’s core. They publish the “10 steps to achieve innovation (the 5th will blow your mind)”, give keynotes, and generated a market that takes tools and sells them as solutions. Many times these people are not part of the discussion neither the answer, they only transmit a message that has much of form and barely context. When Natasha Jen makes fun about the show around design thinking, she’s right on many things.

Mainly because the process of analyzing and building stayed minimal, and then when I see workshops to “empathize with users,” I don’t notice the empathy we need to develop with our inner users. If that stakeholder resists changing, maybe the cause is that we don’t know how to illustrate that change (a topic that Julie Zhuo writes often). We don’t know how talking to bosses. We don’t change our language. We don’t speak with the other, but we do with ourselves. We scarcely write about issues not related to the design’s craft or skills. Hence, we stay out of many debates; except some cases that see from overhead.

We designers quiet care to stop these new airs. And that bothers me because I do believe in these tools and vision but as part of a process’ chain instead of a product itself. We are leaving that the focus center in tools-products and we have not invited other fields to get on board of design’s problems. Maybe we should stop using the word design.

Treating design as a tendency is not comfortable for me. As a group of people that give an innovative, fresh, modern air to things. Putting post-it and drawing fancy draws. That’s why I agree entirely with Milton Glaser when he says that “art and design are not the same thing.” But at the same time, I think that the visual part of our role, and sometimes its oversimplification, keep the door open and allow others take the helm and drive the design’s discussion on somewhere that has nothing of design.