How like a designer

January 16, 2009

4th December 2008: A very enjoyable meeting, as always, with my ex-boss Michael Bierut this morning, that is, with the man best able to describe how design relates to everything else in the world. We ended up in total agreement about the similarity between design and rhetoric. Turns out I had made this point very recently to our own seasoned and virtuosic rhetorician-Chief Executive, Matthew Taylor. He was curious to know why I’d painted the wall behind my desk a very dark blue, covering up the ubiquitous fish-belly white by which we are corporately surrounded. In reply I invoked the principle of contrast, dark and light – and fast and slow, big and small, the one and the many – “surely you recognise this principle from speech-writing?”, I said. Michael wrote about this on his great blog Design Observer a few months back.


I remember arguing vehemently at an Audi Design Foundation debate on design education a few years back that my preliminary undergraduate training in writing essays and my later training in graphic design were united by an over-riding concern for coherence and economy. Writing a letter is a design exercise; designing a poster or publication is a lot like writing an argument. At that debate I was resisting the voices that argued for design as a totally distinct set of thinking processes; as if designers have the monopoly on creative problem-solving and are in possession of the ultimate transferable skill.


In order to be better understood, is it not sensible to show how like other thinking people designers are – and therefore how much more like a designer everyone else can be? I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Daniel Pink is great on this in A Whole New Mind; the chapter on Design contains an excellent “portfolio” of things everyone can do to be more like a designer.

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