Why Designers Need to Step Outside Design

It is well known around Kansas State and from my knowledge, other Universities, that architecture and design students seem to occupy a world of their own, that studio is some secret club where only certain people are admitted, and you have to know the password to enter and understand what is going on inside.  This of course is a bit of an exaggeration, but the design world is fairly clique-ish to say the least.

In this article by Jonty Sharples, the author makes the argument that designers should not exclude non-designers from our world, from our conversations.  Sharples dictates that designers would do better work and meet the needs of a client better if we made our skills and our knowledge more accessible to the people who as he puts is are “NotDesigners,” or in “NonDesign.”  When we lay aside our pride and actually ask and understand and explain the process to the people we are working for, then we can create good, balanced work.  At the beginning of the article Sharples (2015) notes, “I like to think that I became a designer through working hard and listening.  Listening was probably the challenging bit.  Along the way I had the pleasure of working alongside all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds.  Sometimes these relationships were great and sometimes they were less so.  The ‘less so’ relationships were usually the ones where I was either arrogant enough to think my work would speak for itself, or dumbfounded that some of the people I was working with weren’t as knowledgeable or passionate about the same things I was.  I was working with Notdesigners.  Sometimes we didn’t understand one another.  And that was mostly my fault.”  Communication is key, and without being taught or going through design school, how is someone supposed to speak the language that we so readily use?

Sharples refers to a theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, for an example.  Feynman, an investigator in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, though incredibly smart and a physicist, was incredibly good at simplifying material for the general population to understand.  He recognized that his audience didn’t need to know all the scientific names and theories, but simply know what happened and why.  We as designers should be able to do the same thing.  If Notdesigners are not able to understand and therefore, not allowed into the design process, then as Sharples (2015) puts it, “Who do we ask for an opinion when we’re working? If we’re all designers, who’s going to alert us when we have our heads up our collective bottoms?”

Throughout the article, Sharples main point is to allow people without a design background into our world.  We are creating for them, they should be involved. We know how to make a building stand and function, and unlike surgeons or pilots, our job is not usually life endangering.  It is better to be exposed to people of many backgrounds and perspectives rather than be holed up only with our own kind.  Even as a student I have found this to be true; finding inspiration by learning what my nondesign friends are learning in their classes, what they are passionate, how they view the world, and even getting some feedback on projects from them, both the good and the bad, what is over the top and what is beautiful.

Sharples, J. (2015, February 4). Why Designers Need to Step Outside Design. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.creativebloq.com/web-design/why-designers-need-step-outside-design-11514009




2 thoughts on “Why Designers Need to Step Outside Design

  1. Great reflection! The majority of our clients are “non-designers” so it is crucial to learn communication without getting too imbedded in our “archispeak” or conceptual discussions. It is also important to widen our circle because (as you noted) we can gain new perspectives and ideas that may spark innovative solutions. Some of the greatest creative minds make sure they are constantly engaging in other topics.

    And it is interesting you commented that what we do is typically not life-endangering. The majority of architecture and interior state registrations have to do with the fact that we daily influence the “health, safety, and welfare” of the general population. Over 80-90% of our days are spent indoors (or in buildings), so we significantly influence people – much more so than we think!


    1. I guess that is true in regards to how our work positively or negatively effects the people who spend most of their lives inside (aka all of us). I guess I was thinking life-endangering along the lines of surgeons performing heart surgery or something like that. I think buildings could be even more impactful though now as the issues they can potentially cause develop over a long period of time. Or they can quietly affect us over time.


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