A designer’s toughest challenge

Being a designer is not for the faint-hearted, as I’ve often said to my former class and elsewhere on this blog. It takes a certain fortitude of sprit, conviction of purpose, and sharpness of intellect to handle the volatile, sometimes brutal, mix of politics, constraints, opinions, and schedules in any situation–agency, corporate in-house, or freelance.

But what is a designer’s toughest challenge (other than seeing a client / team trash a design while struggling to maintain a calm demeanor)…?

Value conflict. In other words, when you are in a situation of producing or defending a design that you know, in your heart of hearts, you cannot possibly stand behind, that contradicts your own professional expertise/judgment/sensibility. Where someone other than you is dictating a direction of fundamental disagreement (your boss, or the client, etc.). In short, it’s a difficult emotional and cognitive place whereby the design is an affront to your own integrity as a designer and all that you believe in and represent as a bonafide professional.

Perhaps the design reeks of humdrum mediocrity, or lacks functional simplicity or is a mere copycat of a competitor’s product, an ink blot upon an otherwise pristine portfolio of offerings.  Whatever it may be, the reasons vary for each designer yet evoke similar responses. It is an agonizing moment of disappointment, dread, despair. It prompts self-doubt and forces that always profound, critical question of ” is it worth it?” or “What the heck am I doing?” It becomes the most intense of existential crises for a designer, causing one to wonder…should I throw it all in and do something else?

Yet such a value conflict can become the central defining moment of clarity to realize just what it is that makes you want to design, what gets you up in the morning to slug it out and fight those battles for what matters most. It crystallizes priorities and can establish that foundation upon which a designer rests a vital, necessary belief system that propels you to do your best work.

How should a designer respond when confronted with such a deeply personal, intense conflict with professional consequence? There’s no easy answer but reflection on the situation, conditions, consequences, and how to balance that with your beliefs may lead the way. To put it bluntly, borrowing the central tenet of The Bhagavad-Gita, “you must only do your duty” even in the direst of situations. You intuitively know (but may not be able to articulate) what drives you and your values. Making decisions in support of that is the best, perhaps only, path forward, no matter how difficult it may be.

No one said being a designer is easy. The toughest moments can help ensure you are being authentic as a designer.

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