Every designer has a point of view. We work relentlessly to articulate it to the design community, and more importantly, potential clients. Each talk we give, book we write and design we touch is another calculated message meant to emphasize our perspective and argue it’s validity.
As a relatively inexperienced designer, I am fascinated by the way that well-known professionals choose to present themselves and craft their public caricatures. Their message and mystique blend as we consider the validity of the messenger. Some designers thoughtfully construct their haircuts and vocal timbre and others craft articles and papers.
On the one side, designers are passionate people. We care about our work. We’re not happy to sit quietly at the assembly line of culture, consuming whatever falls off the conveyor belt. We want to stand up, make some noise, and have a hand in the direction of the things. We are naturally curious and have to find out the answers for ourselves. This is why I think that a lot of designers can be classified as “Brave Knights”.
Brave Knights are driven by their convictions. They write manifestos and laws. Knights are warriors in the board room and assholes in critiques. They shoulder the herculean task of pushing quality through the toxic sludge of corporate culture.
The epitome of the Knight is Victor Papanek. In his book, “Design for the Real World”, he manages to condemn the entire industrial design profession, preaching responsibility and thoughtfulness to a field he sees as out of control. He writes, “industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis.” He is driven by an unshakable faith and uses his platform to speak in absolutes and with sincere intensity.
Another example is Patricia Moore’s championing of the universal design ethos. Her efforts are heroic: a female designer in a male dominated field, courageously advocating for older and less-able users, and placing herself in physical danger to better understand her users.
Many of the champions of usability and human centered design are Brave Knights. (Jacob Neilsen also comes to mind). But, great designers are also sensitive. They have highly developed skills of empathy. Some designers build their public image around this vulnerability, I dub these “Softball Coaches”.
Softball Coaches are slow to speak. They carefully examine the larger implications of their actions and creations. They are happy to stand on the sidelines. They take a more moderate approach when expressing their theories and dispensing judgement.
Allan Chochinov is a good example of a Softball Coach. He prefaces his “1000 Words: A Manifesto for Sustainability in Design” with “I don’t like the word manifesto. It reeks of dogma and rules–two things I instinctually reject.” And his rules; do no harm, stop making crap, think about the consequences–are innocuous even to the most hummer-driving, meat-eating designers.
I find it difficult to speak in absolutes and naturally lean towards this Softball Coach persona. However, when comparing these two, clearly the Knights are leading the conversation.
I’m reminded of one of my old bosses, Sister Mary Scullion. She is absolutely convinced that everyone must have a clean, safe place to live. Regardless of income, criminal history, or mental state. She is not deterred by the practical implications of such a vision. She simply knows it is right and spends her life sharing her vision publicly and working towards it.
And it’s happening. She successfully lobbies local government and receives support from patrons who believe in her cause and her conviction.
This is what I’m working towards; complete dedication in a worthwhile mission and the fearlessness to shout it from the rooftops.