More than snobbery and buzzwords?

Do methodologies and design frameworks make us better designers? Do we need a masters degree to understand what makes a design or the user experience great?

I started my career as a typography intern in a local advertising agency. My art director introduced me to the field of design by piling several feet of books on my desk for me to read. He said, “a good designer needs to understand the rules, so he knows when and how to break them.”

The small family-owned agency quickly grew too small for me, but that one remark has stuck with me through everything I’ve done since.

Fast forward twenty-two years, looking back, I have been around the world, from Beijing to Montreal. I’ve done work for everything from small local businesses to giants like Bloomberg, Sony and Disney. I’ve done everything from vinyl, print, web, apps, games, signage, identity and branding across multiple fields like design, art, production and development.

The only place I’ve never been is in a big agency. I was never able to land a job with them. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t speak their tribal language, or if I wasn’t wearing the right brand of clothes and didn’t have a master degree or knew the right people.

As a result, I have managed to escape all the buzzwords, titles, definitions and methodologies the industry is currently arguing. There was no need to label and name my methods. I never even thought about my process as something that can be broken down into steps; it is much more organic than that. All I ever cared about was the results, either measurable by numbers or by client satisfaction. The path to achieving that is never the same. Every problem is unique.

My clients have appreciated my work and the results I’ve delivered for years, but I never felt accepted by my tribe. I strived for their acknowledgement and acceptance. My hurt ego grew angry and thought they were all arrogant elitists. I decided their buzzwords and tribal language was pure snobbery.

With time I grew up and stopped caring about what they think of me. Maybe that is why I got that acceptance this year when Forte Digital recruited me.

Forte Digital consists of some of the smartest and best designers, strategists, advisors and developers in Norway and Europe. I felt starstruck for a while and wondered why on earth they picked me. Maybe they were not elitist, but superior after all.

Then I started to notice that everything they do, I do too. There is nothing complicated or foreign about the labels and methodologies, except for the naming itself. My intuitive problem-solving approach and critical thinking gave me many of the same tools.

I could have saved myself a lot of hard work to learn these tools at school of course, but would I have been able to understand them on such a deep level then? Experimenting and failing give you a different appreciation for what you’ve learned. Picking something apart out of curiosity gives a different perspective than learning in engineering how to build it.

I think back to my art director’s words that you need to understand first before you can break the rules. Do the kids who went through the traditional education system understand the tools they are using? How many college students understand the origin of 3.14?

How can we expect designers to be critical thinkers when Google, IDEO or Strategyzer are giving them all the solutions?

What I am noticing is that the pragmatic, no buzzword approach I’ve always sworn to is hitting a chord with our clients as well. Forte Digital is one of the fastest-growing digital consultancies, and I think this is one of the reasons why.

I am not arguing people with Masters or PhDs are not possessing valuable knowledge. The takeaway is that all ways lead to Rome for the humble and the curious.

Also read this article by The Interaction Design Foundation

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