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Great designers learn

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I sat in a room with a group of designers. I quietly listened as they talked back and forth about a design decision that one designer had done. These designers became very prescriptive about providing feedback. One suggestion and diagnoses to fix the design after another. Every designer chimed in with their personal taste and opinions. The meeting quickly went from sharing a new idea to everyone in the room waiting for their turn to talk and give their opinion about a design.

It was chaos. I sat quietly. Waiting for everyone to exhaust themselves before I spoke up.

Finally. Everyone started to settle down. I had heard everything everyone was saying, and not once did anyone ask questions about the decisions that were made. Instead the designers were so shocked and appalled at what was presented that they quickly began asserting their own opinions before really understanding why the design looked the way it did.

I asked, “Why was this decision made?” “Why did you choose this color?” “Why did you place this here?” “Did you try other approaches?” “What worked and what didn’t.”

As the designer responsible for the work answered my questions, the temperature in the room began to change. People began to see the context of why. They began to understand and approach the design with more empathy because the designer had certainly spent much time being empathetic with the approach before sharing with others. The room filled with a softer energy and the designers conceded that the approach, was in fact, a good decision. At the end of the meeting, we agreed to move forward and test this approach against the current live design that was online.

In the end, it proved to be a better solution.

Design is about learning from other people.

I’ve worked with a lot of designers from a lot of different backgrounds, experiences, and education. I’ve worked with designers who have amazing credentials and those who do not have any formal education in design. But these things, to me, do not determine the value of a designer and/or the level at which a designer is. I’ve met some amazing designers who have never been formally educated and I’ve met some designers who spent years in top-notch art schools who have no idea how to design on a grid.

Being a great designer is being aware. It’s looking around at the world you live in and seeing it for what it is…

Great designers learn.

Learn by listening and asking questions with each other. Learn by reading and understanding where design is headed and use the fundamentals of where it’s been to guide us. Learn by reflecting on the design principles of the past and how they translate to the present and our future. Learn from the great designers, whether overly educated or not. Learn from those who have been down a path you have yet to travel. I know I still am.