On Design Education

Scott, Ruby, and Chap making things happen

The biggest takeaway from AC4D, and more generally design education, is the learned discipline of making.   Design exists not in thoughts and ideas, but in the practical implementation of ideas in the digital and physical realm. It’s really easy to live in idea land, talking about the possible.  Often times, conversations provide a false sense of accomplishment and progression toward an end goal without any actual movement. Design teaches that if there is no artifact during or after a conversation, the conversation might as well not have happened.  If nothing is made, nothing is accomplished.

Why is this?  The truth is that the best thinking takes place in the process of externalization.  Most non-design disciplines tacitly recognize this, which is one reason why there is such an emphasis on reports and documentation.  Synthesis happens in taking an idea out of the air and communicating it on paper. To communicate anything requires clarity of thought.  Design, however, distinguishes itself from other disciplines by stressing the importance of the visual vocabulary in addition to the written one. Based on the ubiquity of post-its, for a designer, even words are better understood when represented visually.  These visual artifacts help a designer process an idea but also give team members and clients something concrete to react to and evaluate.

Even once a project gets past the initial idea phase, it’s easy to get sidetracked by tangential ideas, the “wouldn’t it be great if…” conversations.  It’s easy to fantasize about how good or cool or useful an idea might be, but it’s quite another thing to actually solidify an idea and evaluate it.  In the former, nothing is proven or tested, and therefore nothing is learned, produced or accomplished.  In a way, this mentality protects the ego and requires little work.  The latter, requires a willingness to be proven wrong, to throw away code, or realize that a cool idea is not so cool after all.  However, none of that could have been learned just by talking about an idea.

Over an over again at AC4D, Justin Petro repeated the mantra, “Less talking, more making.”  It’s great practice in design, and it’s great practice in all of life.  Stop talking about what you are going to do, and do it already.