Theory: Being a Designer

Throughout this Theory class I’ve been asked again and again to show my perspective. Regurgitating the info we’ve learned isn’t enough. And a lot of what we’ve read in this last section resonated with me more than the other readings. (I’ve heard the same from other students, I imagine this is by design.) And I’ve been thinking about what I should use for the presentation and whether I should tell a story similar to my Harry Potter presentation and if so, what device should I use? Mad Men? The Wire? Beyonce lyrics? Beyonce gifs?!

And all of that seemed like something else for me to hide behind. This reading section is about Problem Solving, Being a Designer and Process. I’ve been calling myself a designer for 20 years, this needs to be about me.

When I graduated high school, instead of buying the official graduation announcements I designed my own (mostly because my dad is cheap and wouldn’t pay for the official ones when we could do them ourselves). I opted to put a quote in the announcement and this is what I chose.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
-Pablo Picasso

Maintaining this child-like approach to creativity I think would create the world Pacione envisions where everyone should be designing. Everyone should be thinking of ways to create something that does not yet exist, no matter what discipline they consider themselves to be in.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve been a designer at a print shop, a marketing firm and an ad agency and I’m frustrated. I get a new job (chalkboard artist/signmaker) at a company I admire (Whole Foods Market) and I’m doing work that feels important. At least, making local profile signs for local farmers feels more important than making business cards for oil company employees.

And in hindsight I realize that in that role–more than in any of my others–I got to use Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt’s concept of inspiration, ideation and implementation at a very fast pace. For example, I learned that chalkboards were not masterpieces, they were usually erased and redone quite frequently. It was better to try something quick and get the message up than it was to use several valuable hours attempting perfection. So if I didn’t like something, I’d have the chance to do something better in a week. They weren’t complete failures but I’d walk through the store and make notes, like, “Well, that doesn’t look as good from far away as I thought it might.”

A few years later I definitely got to use what Edward de Bono calls lateral thinking. I was in a new role, still at Whole Foods Market, that had never existed before in our region, supporting the store artists, and I was charting my own course. I hired two more support people, former store artists as well, and we set a plan to help hire, train and support store artists so they didn’t feel like silos. We didn’t adopt a system of colored hats but we had to constantly update and change our guidance and advice because what worked for one store didn’t always work for another store. (That sounds like Hobbes, too, while we’re at it.) And since the chalkboard artist role was so unique, we were the only members of the regional team who could truly empathize and help problem-solve.

Fast forward a few more years and I’m still at Whole Foods Market, but I’m the Regional Art Director. I have a team of 6 and I get to be part of exciting projects, like designing a whole new sign template for the Produce department. (I’ve actually inadvertently done what Pilliton suggests and I’ve immersed myself in a culture for 3-5 years so I can better problem-solve for with the users.)  But I wasn’t happy.

What was missing?

First, while some of the problems I was solving could be called ill-defined, none of them were even close to being called wicked. Second, Pacione’s model of learning/understanding/making really resonated with me but it’s not what I was doing at Whole Foods Market, or at many of my past jobs. His model shows a repeating cycle of looking at a problem, understanding it, making something to solve the problem and through that making acquiring a deeper understanding. Repeat. Through repeating that process, one arrives closer to a solution.

Pacione’s model looks like this:

Pacione_Iterative_skills

I feel like what I’ve been doing my whole life, not just at Whole Foods Market looks more like this:

Historical_Iterative_skills

There was no reflection or understanding after the making step and I know I’ve seen projects happen where there was no understanding before it.

So here I am at AC4D and I’m looking forward to using the creative thinking I’ve been using all my life and applying it across other disciplines.