Designers Are Just Doctors With Different Tech

What limits what we (as designers) can imagine?


To answer that we have to defamiliarize ourselves from the constructs of profession and what a “Designer” truly is. I’ll do this by focusing on a separate but equally relevant profession. Doctors.


Far back to when doctors first came around they didn’t start off by calling themselves doctors, they were just people that healed other people. The idea that someone would call themselves a doctor was far fetched. They served a purpose and they identified by that purpose.


It was through that overwhelming purpose and identity that these people started to think up new ways to better heal people. They started to think outside the box and they invented new tools and technology that allowed them to perform healing practices much easier. These radical innovations changed the field. People began to view these people as miracle workers. They became saints ordained by holy means to do things that normal people couldn’t comprehend. However, in actuality they were the same type of people that came before. They were just people who healed other people. It was only through the innovative technology that they were able to transcend this identity and become more than that.


“I don’t believe that new needs have been created,” says Charles Purdy, senior editor for “We’ve just created new ways and adopted new technologies to get them done.”


Fast forward to healing becoming a global industry. The rise of these innovations create power and influence and these once called healers become what we know as doctors and with the adoption of this new identity comes a sense of tribalism. These “Doctors” stop identify as people who heal people and instead become people who use these radical forms of technology and procedure to heal people. They start to lose their human centered approach and stop creating new and innovative ways to heal.


“The problem with healthcare is that doctor’s are a stage 3 (of 5) tribe, a group of people who think, “I am great and you are not.” -Dave Logan


The profession begins to be more about being a doctor than it is about helping people. These once radical innovations couple with adoption have poisoned these people into thinking they are so powerful, and none of them want to give up that power by taking a risk to think laterally. Instead, most doctors nowadays are taught how to do something a certain way and anyone who tries to think or do it another way is deemed as unfit or unqualified. So we are left with an industry full of people who claim to heal people, but are actually just relying on past healers innovations and methods. They are not adapting as healers did in the past, and eventually our culture of medicine with outgrow them. Meanwhile the patients will continue to suffer.


“If you’re and outside the box thinker this doesn’t last long in medical school or residency. The egos of your superiors are too threatened.” Rethinking healthcare, Jay Parkinson M.D.


Now take that same narrative and apply it to Designers. Designers started out being people who created experiences. Only recently, within the last fifty years, has the name Designer been used to define this role. IN actuality, anyone can be a designer. Just like anyone can heal people, we as human have untapped knowledge and creativity that allows all of us to create for others. Yet, somehow in the last few years Designers have stopped identifying as people who create things for people and instead focus more on creating things to impress other designers.


IDEO, Frog, Google, Apple, are all huge companies that started thinking about how they were going to create something to improve our experiences. However, as we’ve seen with Doctors, success and power from radical innovations in digital technology creates tribalism among designers. Designers may not like hearing it, but we have become just like Doctors, full of ourselves and out of touch with our roots. There are exceptions, yes, but we can see that young designers (like myself and my classmates) are getting out of schools and ultimately ending up at these big companies. We like to think that we aren’t like designers because as Robert Sterling states in his articles Design Fiction, “Design is busily inventing new ways to blows itself up. Taking more risks.”


This quote should be changed to, “Design WAS busily inventing new ways to blow itself up.” Now that we’ve  got Chief Design Officers and Creative Directors making big leaps for big companies you’d think we’d be in the perfect place to make actual change. But we’re not. No, we’ve fallen victim to the same hubris that Doctors have. We think that because we have been taught by Designers new ways to think and find problems that we know how  to solve them. We don’t. We could, if we weren’t so busy trying to impress other designers with flashy visuals and high paying jobs with fancy Creative Director titles. What happened to being people that create experiences? When did it stop being about people and start being about us?


In 2017 there were over four million apps on the App Store and Google Play combined. In April, 2018 over 24,000 apps were added to Google play (


Why then are designers telling us that we need to have a digital component in our portfolios? Why, when we present ideas like our civic comedy show MVP do people tell us that it’s not design and it needs to have some digital component? A likely answer is probably that we are not doing a good job at explaining our vision and conveying how much testing and development has gone into the minimal viable product state. However, it often feels like designers have a way of doing things that works right now. Digital products are a radical innovation that came out recently and everyone of us is trying to harness that power while it’s still ours. Yet, most of us are identifying as these digital products. We live in a world of digital decks and presentations where the pretty presentation wins. We identify as our macs, our illustrator, and our digital products because that’s what gave us power. We have take off these blinders and start to imagine new ways to create meaningful experience.  


So, what limits what we as designers can imagine?


Power. Tribalism. Technology.


How do we remove ourselves from these limitations?


Get back to the basics. Defamiliarize ourselves with what it means to be a designer. Start using our natural skills and stop relying solely on our digital tools.