Multiple Identities

What is a designer? What is the public notion of this group of professionals whose presence is mostly behind the scene?

After years of practicing design, my mother still tells people I make drawings, needless to say I do not remember the last time I drew. My mother’s inability to differentiate art and design is amongst the many odd situations I’ve encountered when the subject of my profession is in the light of discussion. I’ve had people who showered me with words of admiration, as well those who scanned me from head to toe with eyes of suspicion. This leads me to question how does the public look at designers? Are we being categorized as Martians? Do we still have two eyes and two arms? What are the misconceptions of our kind out there? And why the misconceptions?

Our profession is often categorized as a ‘creative’ profession, which makes one ask the next, what is ‘creativity?’ One who cannot ‘create’ often views the act of ‘creation’ as something magical, something that falls off the sky just as how a prophet receives his message from his Supreme Being. As something that cannot be reasoned or rationalized, and only a fortunate few are blessed with this gift. Nevertheless, how does the ‘creator’ view his/her own act? Can a ‘creator’ attempt to explaining this act of ‘creation’ logically as how a mathematician clarifies an equation? And is it possible for one to learn how to ‘create?’ One needn’t argue that most children are creative; the world around them is still open to their interpretations. Children make free associations by combining the elements known to them in unexpected ways. Could this be what occurs in our mind—as adults—when we create? Simply seeking for the unexpected combinations of the known elements, trying to fill in the knowledge gaps?

Being ‘creative’ is only a part of our design profession, not its entirety. The myth of the designer as the sole creator, laboring away in a secret chamber to announce one day his/her creation to the world, is attractive but far from reality. Design is mostly problem solving. It starts often with the ‘what’—the problem—to end with the ‘whom’—the end-user—. The quest for the appropriate solution is not a solitary act; it is shared and witnessed by many. We can see the designer as a part of a larger mechanism at work; to realize a design successfully a designer needs to be especially skilled in performing his or her presence—in collaborations and in social interactions—with the other parts of the mechanism. The various social interactions might demand us to perform different ‘identities’, because we can find ourselves in all types of situations. There may come a time when we need to perform as a salesman, a psychologist, a diplomat, an entertainer or more. No matter what that identity is, the goal is the same, in search for the most appropriate solution.

Chin-Lien Chen , Chris Vermaas