Do you actually possess "design" skills

14 Jul 2010 - 8:00pm
3 years ago
29 replies
1606 reads
Richard Carson
2010

Hi,

I've recently encountered many Interaction Designers who call themselves "designers" yet have no drawing, photographic, layout or any artistic skills whatsoever. How is this even possible? Maybe the term "organizer" or " choreographer" should be more appropriate?

R.C.

Comments

14 Jul 2010 - 8:22pm
isaacw
2009

It's not really the label that's important, but the alignment of a professional within his/her role. People can call themselves whatever they want for all I care... My 1.5 cents...

-isaacw

15 Jul 2010 - 12:10am
DaveBreeze
2010

Design by definition is more about thinking, problem solving, and inventing solutions.

Thinking of it more by definition rather than the way that Graphic Arts uses the term will help to show how design can be found in many disciplines.

I found a good Wiki that builds on the definition of design and shows a slice of design terminology - here.

Cheers!
Dave Breeze

15 Jul 2010 - 3:59am
Tai.Greene
2010

There are many people who call themselves User Experience professionals (usability engineers, information architects, technical writers, interaction designers, visual designers) who are talented or even have an clue as to what we do. I've run into them on engagements. Keep studying & practicing the craft - it makes those in our profession stand out more. Remember always add value. 

15 Jul 2010 - 6:48am
.pauric
2006

We, humans, are pattern recognition machines.  We do a few other things.. eat, love, sleep but if you look at the vast majority of the tasks we perform they are based on the ability to interpret and respond to learned patterns.

When we designers are; analysing research, ideating or building, we are looking for, learning about and reusing patterns.  What is the difference between someone out of IxD school with formal artistic skills versus someone with 15 years under their belt, what makes one employed and the other looking for work?  It's not skillset, it's experience and what does the majoirty of that comprise of?

So, yes, it would be nice if I could sketch faces, understand fonts, compose a photograph but that stuff alone does not make me a UI designer.  Good artists borrow, great artists steal.. but if you dont know how/what/why to re-use your drawing skills are almost worthless.

The ability to recognise problems, interpret and formulate design solutions based on the pattern library in memory is what makes a UI Designer.

regards /pauric

15 Jul 2010 - 8:27am
jonkarpoff
2009

This group always takes such a myopic view of 'design'. What most are talking about is 'graphic design'. A designer is someone who formulates a solution to a problem where the solution set is usually bounded by constraints. A graphic designer focuses on a specific visual medium in which to practice.

Good design is largely made up of patterns -- in fact my Fathe, a graphic designer and Cooper Union grad often told me that, "If this audience hasn't seen it its original!" Re-use and the experience to know when to apply a problem are critical to being an effective designer. Going, further, knowing how people will react to specific patterns allows us to direct both behavior and emotional response. People respond similarily to the same stimulus. Draw a square. Now place a solid red dot within the square where it causes the most tension. Now the least tension. Where it seems most likely to move. At rest. The dot will end up in the same places (generally) regardless of who is doing the drawing. This is an exercise in positive and negative space and visual composition. Response is cross cultural -- its wired into the Human organism.

My point is that part of really god UX is information design. The spacing between letters and space between a field and its label are important. Variances will generate different responses in the user that may effect user behavior and satisfaction. Graphic design is an integral part of end-to-end user  expereince design. Now does all this immense talent and expertise need reside in a single individual? Hardly. That is what design teams are for.

So if you solve problems, don't worry, you are a designer. But if you don't also design graphically then you better team up with someone who does.

15 Jul 2010 - 12:05pm
Richard Carson
2010

A detective, a scientist solves many problems, doesn't make him a designer. In fact, there are problems all over their world and people are solving them. Doesn't make everyone a designer. If you solve problems, why not be a scientist? or a detective? A designer? C'mon... there are toy designers, ad designers, fashion designers, package designers, industrial designers, etc... they can all draw, they've trained hard to get to where they are and then someone guy calls him or herself a designer because they solve problems? It's bad enough that illustrators are calling themselves designers.

Teams are great. But you're either a designer or not. Why not be an Interaction Architect? Interaction Manager? If you can't design, but you can speak or write about it, then maybe you're a book writer or speaker on design instead. There's nothing wrong with that.

15 Jul 2010 - 3:25pm
jonkarpoff
2009

Interesting, in that today's scientists are DESIGNING living organisms. Design doesn't = graphic design. Why do you insist it does? Mind you I've studied architecture, graphic and scenic design. I'm trained in typography. I've been an agency Creative Director. I don't limit the scope of design to drawing. You ignore product design for example, or choreography. Is this myopia or the arrogance of pride? What about Universal design? Graphical design is importannt to great UX but again that's what teams are for. Not everyone can be a Regisseur of the Web nor is the universal expert always the best choice.

15 Jul 2010 - 5:56pm
Adam Korman
2004

The term designer has and always contained the visual aspect as well.

So are these things not design?

  • Systems design
  • Sound design
  • Business design
  • Process design
  • Instructional design
  • Experiment design
  • IVR design
  • Economic design
  • Service design
  • Integrated circuit design
-Adam
15 Jul 2010 - 6:49pm
.pauric
2006

Adam: "Integrated circuit design" 

Well, sort of a side point, but have looked inside a Mac?  I have a background in PCB design (& ASIC engineering) and while we shipped stuff when it was ready I have to say my jaw drops if I'm not scratching my head when looking inside Apple products.  There's as much attention to detail (if not more) going on inside.  I've seen the same rounded corner aesthetic applied to the layout of tracks and cutting of pcbs.  It's completely unecessary and somewhat costly to tool that kind of work - tip of the hat to an organisation that allows that to go on.  I haven't opened up any of the new gear but I did read somewhere that Mr. Ives said he thought the inside of the new unibody laptops was more beaturiful than the outside.

Anyway, that's not quite IC design, I haven't had the opportunity to see their work at that level but I wouldn't be surprised to find the same aesthetic in the IC too (granted, most of that stuff is autogenerated).

All the best /pauric

15 Jul 2010 - 10:04am
iaaxpage
2010

Yesterday I replied this by email.

In words of Emil Ruder: To design is to plan, to order, to relate, and to control. In short, it opposes all means of disorder and accident.

Designers are not artists.

I consider important to learn to draw, learn the importance of aesthetics and photography. But I disagree with your point of view.

Kind Regards.

@pauric and @jon have provided great and clear ideas about design.

Thank you both guys

15 Jul 2010 - 1:07pm
Shaun Bergmann
2007

This reminds me of the rather animated discussion that took place during IxD09 in Vancouver with Andrei Herasimchuk.  I believe his take on the matter was quite strongly leaning toward the "if you can't draw, (pen/pencil on paper) you're not a designer.".

Of course, this ruffled quite a few feathers, and I don't entirely agree with the hardcore sentiment, but I believe being ABLE to draw, sketch, or have at least the most basic training in traditional arts makes Interaction Designers better designers.  It definitely rounds out ones skillset.

Tim Wood's presentation during last years conference, if you haven't seen it, is a great focal point on the abilities of an Interaction Designer that can draw, vs those that can't.  I love his usage of Da Vinci as an example.  http://vimeo.com/4421043

I think that knowing, understanding and being able to apply the fundamentals behind IxD: the psychology of HCI; the theory; understanding the users; being able to effectively card-sort; the IA, etc, is the real 'meat and potatoes' of our craft, but being able to draw effectively and quickly to sketch out our ideas at the onset of a new project separates the wheat from the chaff.

I would hope that the curriculum of our IxD schools would always include a course in drawing.  It's a powerful tool in our industry.

15 Jul 2010 - 4:05pm
Fredrik Matheson
2005

I wonder how this conversation would have played out if the thread title had been "How good are you at illustrating your ideas with pen and paper?"

15 Jul 2010 - 6:31pm
jaxxon
2010

I think that just comes down to tools. I'm totally inept with pen and paper, but plop me down with Photoshop or Illustrator and watch out! ;)

15 Jul 2010 - 7:48pm
penguinstorm
2005

You need to define the term design if you're going to have a single, narrow definition of "designer" or someone with "design skills."

Otherwise using the term "designer" to describe "someone who designs" makes it an adverb, and it really requires a modifier to have any meaning.

16 Jul 2010 - 10:19am
Dave Malouf
2005

I think the issue is being framed in a confusing way for this audience. Let's remove the word design. I agree it is confusing indeed. There are people in this community for whom the term design means something quite specific and those who would equally insist that the term is quite broad. 

The idea that you have to "draw" to be a good "designer" is a ridiculous notion if you don't agree what a designer does.

To me the real question being posed about "design skills" can be rephrased as, 

Are you using visual communication methods and processes as a means of idea generation, idea communication, idea analysis, idea synthesis and idea validation in an abductive, non-linear fashion within the cultural context of a studio environment?

Then there is the conversation about whether or not these methods actually lead to better results or not. Some believe yes and others believe it doesn't matter about methods if you have smart people working within the right over-arching collaborative human-centered cultural environment.

My take on this lately is that I don't believe it hurts and the people who I most respect use these methods towards their end creation of what I consider successful products and services and so I want to learn them and apply them to my practice. I also don't believe that using these methods means not incorporating other methods that I have also seen work.

Another way to look at this is through the power of the individual and culture. How do YOU work best? Are you open to figuring out how you work best?

I am a huge advocate for these types of tools, processes and methods, but I also know I struggle deeply with incorporating them into my own practice. I work best where it is assumed that these practices take place, but I bring my own unique methods (socratic based, mostly) into the environment with positive results, once people train up on how to work with me. 

As the saying goes, "There is always more than one way to skin a cat." 

-- dave

16 Jul 2010 - 1:09pm
jonkarpoff
2009

Bingo. Agree completely. The more approaches I have to problem solving the better. And I keep loooking to learn more skills, more ways of approaching, defining a problem... and creating (not to say designing) the solution.

And I will add though loooking back over 32 years of work that the more elegantly crafted the solution and the documentaton that frames the solution are the generally more effective and well accepted the solution.

16 Jul 2010 - 2:05pm
monkeyshine
2010

"To design is to communicate clearly by whatever means you can control or master." - Milton Glaser

End of story! Any designer knows you cannot argue with Milton Glaser. ;)

16 Jul 2010 - 10:30am
Dave Malouf
2005

The next question is how much fidelity of control do I need as an interaction designer? This fidelity as @fred_beecher explains so well occurs for interactivity at two levels: visual and behavioral. 

The answer is that the more you can control within any production the system the more the outcomes will execute per your desires. It is that simple. Yes, collaborative cultures are great and they help for sure, but no one can deny that if you can build it yourself, it will be as built.

I don't build and I don't do graphic production. I rely on my relationships like most interaction designers, but I have seen where my lack of direct skills has left me disempowered even within the best intentioned cultural situations.

-- dave

16 Jul 2010 - 1:03pm
Jack L. Moffett
2005

As Dave says, "design" is a very broad term. That is why designers have prefixed it with qualifying descriptors for as long as there have been design professions. When I graduated from my undergraduate program, I was a Graphic Designer. When I finished my masters, I was an Interaction Designer.

Richard, I suggest, if you want a more focused answer to your question, you should phrase it with this in mind. It seems to me, you are asking if an Interaction Designer can claim to be one without having visual design skills. This does not correspond to being an artist, nor does it simply infer the use of sketching in the design process. It suggests that the designer in question has training in color, typography, form, layout, etc. The further assumption is that the Interaction Designer is able to not only specify a solution abstractly, but is able to represent the solution visually in some high-fidelity form and contribute to the implementation of that design.

This has been debated here repeatedly over the many years that the list has existed, and you'll find that some agree with this strongly, some feel it is a good idea while admitting that it is not necessary if the Interaction Designer is working with a visual designer, and some believe that it is completely unnecessary, preferring to throw designs over the wall to the visual designers that will make them pretty.

Bottom line: when communicating with professionals in a forum specifically about one type of design, you need to be very precise in your labeling of roles and skills.

16 Jul 2010 - 1:15pm
bminihan
2007

My own personal take on this, FWIW...

If you must visually conceptualize patterns, layouts and organize information or space, in your mind, to do your job, then you practice design.

By that definition, for example, a person who designs web applications using sketches and wireframes, who then becomes a quadraplegic...is still a designer, even if he loses the ability to draw, as long as he can communicate his designs in some meaningful, transferrable way.  He has the necessary raw material to design, he just lacks the most efficient means to communicate his designs.

I have a background in cartooning and illustration, but rarely use those talents in my "design" work, since much of it requires arranging forms and workflows into usable and aesthetically pleasing spaces.  Does the fact that I'm an artist who doesn't use his talent to "design" mean that I'm not a "real designer"?

Bryan

16 Jul 2010 - 4:29pm
Dave Malouf
2005

I also want to add one clarification to my piece.

If you are asking if you should learn these things to improve your own design work, the answer is DEFINITELY YES! Do you have to, no. Is it the only thing you might need to learn that you are missing? probably not. But I'd definitely put it on most people's top 5. ;-)

-- dave

20 Jul 2010 - 1:49am
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

After all of these years, it would be a nice change for people in this field ("interaction design") to drop all the pomp and circumstance and just admit: In the context of software, interfaces, websites and digital products -- which is basically 90% of what the population of the IxDA members do it seems -- whatever is designed in that context results in an expression of the work on a display or screen device. Inherently, that type of work has a prominent visual component, just like nearly all other major design professions. And like those other design professions, people should be taught how to draw and be expected to solve problems visually as a major piece of their craft.

The IxDA can push system or process design all it wants. You can talk about becoming a quadriplegic and losing motor functions, or working with sound and analog phones. You can do all sorts of contortions to avoid owning and becoming accountable for a critical aspect of your work: how it looks. You can do all of that but it's just unnecessary thrashing. Most people here still create websites and software and apps. For that group of people, I'll say it again: If you can't draw, you're not a designer.

And to the point, it's not about art or being able to draw like Picasso. It's about being able to DRAW. Period. Being able to communicate in the very medium your work will be expressed. A screen or display, and interactive with a prototype and coded for what its worth. Like anything else worth doing, learning how to draw and communicate visually takes practice. Years and years of practice. It's a craft. It's a profession. It's supposed to take time to master and become good at. 

It's 2010 already. Its time for people to get with the program in software and high-tech product design. Watching people in this field maneuver around this topic still to this day, sometimes trying desperately to avoid admitting that interaction designers in the high-tech world need to buck up and learn skills like drawing and visual thinking and fonts and color and composition ... It's really become tedious and boring.

Stop beating around the bush already. Just accept that learning how to draw is critical to this profession, watch how much better your work becomes and move on.

20 Jul 2010 - 4:58am
fj
2010

On Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 9:08 AM, Andrei Herasimchuk <andreih@yahoo-inc.com> wrote:
> can do all of that but it's just unnecessary thrashing. Most people here
> still create websites and software and apps. For that group of people, I'll
> say it again: If you can't draw, you're not a designer.

What goes on my businesscards is what communicates what I do to the people who want to hire me. And right now, "Interaction Designer" or "User Experience Designer" communicates that, as they understand that my deliverables are not final visual designs. So that is what goes on my business cards, whether some art person feels protective of the term or not.

This requirement to be able "to draw", whatever skill level that implies for whomever read the phrase, is just not relevant in my work. Sorry, it isn't. What I end up delivering are functional specifications, wireframes, architectures, and prototypes. The pixels I push are in tools like Keynote, PowerPoint, Visio, Axure, InDesign, whatever people want me to deliver their gray boxes and flows in. When I "draw" it is stick figures on a whiteboard, and the fact that I haven't spent years learning to shade in charcoal doesn't seem to stop people from hiring me: what they want is for more to assemble these boxes together to solve their problems, even as I groan internally and tell them this deliverable is painful and I would rather give them a clickable expandable zooming moving HTML / AJAX proto to _really_ show them what their site or app should feel like.

One of the things that I learned at Disney was to not try to do myself what someone else could do far better and faster. And the Graphic Designers and Animators could make the visual to any concept I came up with much better and faster than I could because that is what they had specialised in, and I could arrange flows and group functions to solve the needs of users and the constraints of the back-end much better than they could, and it required just as much creativity and problem solving and whittling down to simplicity. Spending years learning how to draw? Why, someone else already did, and they need the skills I spent years on to work together.

It is indeed 2010 already, and we have moved on from the "UI person" being a coder who cares about how people use stuff and thus gets told he also needs to draw the icon and the logo and by necessity becomes an overworked generalist with half-assed skills and exposure to the details of the issues. We have actual specialisations with names now, and they make us good and efficient. You want to be protective of the word 'Designer' because you think it means something special, go ahead. The people paying me have already made a decision, and they value me using the word Designer for myself in a specific context.

20 Jul 2010 - 11:25am
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

This message is precisely the problem I see all too prevalent in this profession.

You're going to be in for a rude awakening over the next five years or so as interaction designers in the field of high-tech software and the web are very much going to be expected to do a lot more than just draw wireframes or workflow diagrams if they want to get paid $90K to $130K a year. 

22 Jul 2010 - 2:24am
fj
2010

> You're going to be in for a rude awakening over the next five years or so
> as interaction designers in the field of high-tech software and the web are
> very much going to be expected to do a lot more than just draw wireframes
>or workflow diagrams if they want to get paid $90K to $130K a year.

Yes, they're going to have to be able to make things come to life and understand highly dynamic interactivity. Being able use guache to shade an apple is not what will give them those skills -- every agency has hordes of Creatives for that, most of them quite economical due to the competition. It is being able to mock something interactive up good and know technology. It's how I got into that salary bracket 6 years ago already.

20 Jul 2010 - 5:05am
Steve Baty
2009

Andrei,

I see interaction design - in the digital space - as having three core areas of extension in which the designer can really take ownership over the finished product. One is, as you've argued below, in the visual components of the system. The second is in the fidelity of prototyping, through the ability to execute - to some degree or another - a coded version of the design. The third is in the strategy for the system, and how it delivers value to the organisation & it's customers/users/staff.

To your point about biting the bullet and learning to draw and solve problems visually: the inability to communicate and explore concepts visually will increasingly marginalise (and already does, I believe, to a great extent) interaction designers. I've heard clients lament the slow pace with which some agencies 'get something down for me to see!'. I don't see this trend reversing.

Steve

On 20 July 2010 17:10, Andrei Herasimchuk <andreih@yahoo-inc.com> wrote:

After all of these years, it would be a nice change for people in this field ("interaction design") to drop all the pomp and circumstance and just admit: In the context of software, interfaces, websites and digital products -- which is basically 90% of what the population of the IxDA members do it seems -- whatever is designed in that context results in an expression of the work on a display or screen device. Inherently, that type of work has a prominent visual component, just like nearly all other major design professions. And like those other design professions, people should be taught how to draw and be expected to solve problems visually as a major piece of their craft.

The IxDA can push system or process design all it wants. You can talk about becoming a quadriplegic and losing motor functions, or working with sound and analog phones. You can do all sorts of contortions to avoid owning and becoming accountable for a critical aspect of your work: how it looks. You can do all of that but it's just unnecessary thrashing. Most people here still create websites and software and apps. For that group of people, I'll say it again: If you can't draw, you're not a designer.

And to the point, it's not about art or being able to draw like Picasso. It's about being able to DRAW. Period. Being able to communicate in the very medium your work will be expressed. A screen or display, and interactive with a prototype and coded for what its worth. Like anything else worth doing, learning how to draw and communicate visually takes practice. Years and years of practice. It's a craft. It's a profession. It's supposed to take time to master and become good at. 

It's 2010 already. Its time for people to get with the program in software and high-tech product design. Watching people in this field maneuver around this topic still to this day, sometimes trying desperately to avoid admitting that interaction designers in the high-tech world need to buck up and learn skills like drawing and visual thinking and fonts and color and composition ... It's really become tedious and boring.

Stop beating around the bush already. Just accept that learning how to draw is critical to this profession, watch how much better your work becomes and move on.

((
20 Jul 2010 - 6:09am
Dave Malouf
2005

FYI Andrei, being a systems designer does not get you a "get out of [drawing] jail" any more either.

Here at SCAD both our Design Management and Service Design programs have a required course called "Idea Visualization". As a designer your ability to convert complex ideas into visualizations quickly via both analog and digital tools is crucial to your success in being able to sell those ideas. 

So the person who doesn't want to step on the toes of the graphic designers I can see that relationship just fine, but don't you as a designer want to be the best communicator that you can? don't you want to have access to the best design methods that are out there?

We access information about the cognitive mind all the time, but we seem to ignore it as a community when we do our own work. The people we work with need artifacts from us that speak to them and further we need to use as much of our mind as possible. There is a direct relationship between learning types and creativity. That is to say that just like the more learning types you use the more you learn on a topic (listen, move, read, etc.). This is true of being a creative individual. The more you incorporate different types of creation the more creative you become. Sketching/drawing offers both visual and kinetic in a way that abstract forms of visual creation (ala the mouse pointer) doen't account for.

What kills me is that "learning how to draw" doesn't even require going to a school.

1. If you are going to be at UX Australia go to MJ's workshop. Just go!!!
2. If you are going to IxDA I'm sure that Mark Baskinger, MJ, myself or someone similar will be around.
3. If you can go to the NYC Dan Roam 2/day workshop (I think in sept) GO!
4. Oh! the VizThink workshops are also well recommended
5. Pick up 1 of the following books: RapidViz, Back of the Napkin, Unfolding the Napkin

Oh! and start drawing. 

-- dave

28 Jul 2010 - 1:27pm
Lalao
2008

To support what has been said about design and drawing and give a little more perspective, I'd like to add two remarks that are part of a study I'm currently running.

First, design and problem solving. I think It's been made clear by Donald Schön in the early 80's that design is not about problem solving... at all. More recently Erik Stolterman explained how problem handling in design is inherently different from problem handling in other scientific-centered approaches (Stolterman, 2008). It's not even about design thinking or IxD, it's just the core "objective" of this whole human activity that is design: we design to FRAME problems, not to solve them (Schön, 1983).

A quick example: I used to work as a "code designer" in Paris. What is that? It's like being a developer without writing a single line of code. Instead I drew tons of schematics to figure out with other developers the general programming architecture that would best "expose" the challenging parts of our future code. So the point was not to solve coding challenges, but to setup a "problem-friendly" programming strategy so not to miss any of the expected challenges.

From this we can jump to the conclusion that indeed, any problem framing activity can be dubbed a design process. But what makes you a good "problem framer" then? Hence the "skills" questioned in this thread and the slight shift towards "drawing".

My second point is expression, often confused with communication. The "problem" with problem framing is that it's a probing process fueled by exchange, prototyping and discussion. Much like a "trial and error" method. As an individual, you can only be an expert on very few aspects of the problem at hand. So, if you expect to frame the problem for good, you're probably going to need a little help (at least, it'd be a little more honest to ask for a hand or two... or more). Then you're faced with the necessity to exchange with other people on the problem (Newton, 2004). People from other disciplines, domain, education background, people with other opinions, goals and perspectives...

All of a sudden the whole framing process depends on your ability to express your-self and explain what others are trying to express in a variety of mediums. Drawing is one of them. It’s fast, cheap, disposable (Buxton, 2007). It’s by far the best prototyping tool ever. Not more, nor less.

Of course, there are plenty of other means of expression out there. The only question being: How well do you manage to make a point through them? How well do they help in framing the problem(s) at hand?

Cheers!

10 Aug 2010 - 2:19pm
Samuel Lee
2009

My thoughts are that confusing "artistic skills" with "design skills" is one mental jump.  But the value many designers offer is not just from skills but deeper strategies that can be applied as interventions to problems that are framed.

 

-Sam

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