And why it should matter to you.
The first time design really struck me was at the age of 17 while at college. I was in a friend’s dorm room and I caught a glimpse of some of his school projects. He was a Visual Communications student, and I was studying Architecture. I don’t remember what it was exactly but I remember feeling like ‘damn, I wish I did that’. I don’t know why I never really noticed design like that before. Growing up in Benin City, Nigeria, there weren’t any readily available examples of great design to be inspired by. I was studying architecture so I knew about design in general, but I wasn’t gripped by it until that moment.
Right after that, I bought a magazine on Photoshop and started working through the tutorials. It wasn’t long until I was hooked. I kept working through tutorials on the internet, practicing and taking on jobs for my friends or wherever I could design. Fast forward a couple years and here I am.
Design even saved my life. At the points in my life when I was deep in depression, my fixation on design, gave me something to latch onto until I came out of the funk. It gave me a reason, something to strive for.
As you can probably sense, my love for design runs deep. But beyond the love and passion for it, I think design is terribly important. I’ll tell you why.
The most impactful brands and companies in the world are driven not just by technology and processes but also by a keen sense of design. The ones gaining market share, tapping into public consciousness, disrupting industries and opening new opportunities are the ones with design at the core of their DNA – Apple, Uber, Airbnb and many more. Good design is no longer a nice to have. It is a fundamental requirement of entry into the market place.
Design at its shallowest, is the study and practice of aesthetics. It is exploring and giving form to ideas in a way that is pleasing to the eye. We can all agree that looking at a well-designed object is much nicer than looking at a shitty one. It attracts attention. In a world with a million different things competing for our attention all day, it generally pays to be good-looking.
The life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against ugliness.
But design is not just skin deep. Great design goes past the surface, right down to the guts and bones of the matter. Harnessed properly, it is a powerful tool to make sure that the object or service or piece of communication functions seamlessly and pleasantly. Form can marry function in such a way that the result is something transcendent.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.Design is how it works.
The ultimate power for me however does not lie in just the power of design to look amazing, grab attention or communicate an idea. The true power of design is in the thought process. Sure, a lot of design is intuitive; there can be a great deal of ‘art’ and ‘style’ involved. But the thinking patterns of designers hold the keys to solving intractable problems and uncovering new possibilities.
Master designers design from first principles. They break a problem down to its true essence. They flip it on its head, asking new questions and breaking new ground. They don’t design schools; they design places and platforms for learning and knowledge exchange. They don’t design corporate identities; they create systems and touch points that communicate the brand of the company.
People think that design is styling. Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.
The power to think from first principles, the ability to approach problems with some naiveté and ask silly questions, break things apart and put them back together allows design to step out of its ‘perceived’ box and tackle other problems. Design demands that you pull ideas from diverse sources, from economics, spirituality, psychology, engineering, technology, ad infinitum to create new things, birth new realities, solve new problems and ask new questions.
If you can design one thing, you can design everything.
What happens when you ask an architect to design clothing, what happens when you take a UX designer and throw her into the problem of designing a city? What happens when a furniture designer tackles cars? A lot of mistakes and missteps perhaps, but there would definitely be a lot of fresh approaches and new understanding.
And that is why design matters to me – It provides the ability to dive deep into the world, the opportunity to grow and learn, the chance to create and delight, a way to reach full potential.