Yes, “Design” is a personal issue

In my decade plus of designing a range of interfaces, products, and services for consumer and enterprise companies, I’ve been often accused of “taking things too personally”, when it comes to design. Perhaps this is a career-limiting move to even state this publicly ;-) But while I wholly regret any offense to others in my extraordinary displays of passion and vigorous, even vehement, argumentation, I take no offense in being accused of “taking design personally”. Why wouldn’t I?? Quite simply, it’s my life and my mission. It’s what I do and who I am. Unlike other fields, design isn’t something I just “clock in” and “clock out” for a day’s wages. It’s a personally driven pursuit of achievement, constantly driving myself (and maybe, regretfully my teammates too ;-) to the highest levels of accomplishment, nearing the stellar heights of divine–or at least Platonic–enlightenment itself. This includes not just designing the best possible solutions, but also facilitating deep conversations with stakeholders, mentoring the brightest stars, politicking with managers seeking only optimal results, and yes, drafting controversial posts/articles/writings that advocate a strong point of view, not just the vanilla tones of convenient consensus.

Design is personal to me, because it’s fundamentally about the human qualities of creating something people (not users, ahem ;-) will (hopefully) absorb into their daily lives, transiently and persistently shaping their conscious and implicit notions of work or play among diverse contexts. A design that enables someone to fulfill their goals happily and smoothly, so they can go on with the daily routines of…life.

Design is personal because it’s incredibly hard work, that consumes a designer’s own time, energy, talent, and skills in ongoing iterative cycles of creation, destruction, re-creation, evolution and renewal. There’s wonderment, heartbreak, and relief in almost never-ending swoons of emotional tides, from concept to completion.

Design is personal to me, because it’s maddening, frustrating, difficult, traumatizing even, brutally intense, with the slimmest margins of success against ever-tightening constraints, doubts, disbeliefs of even the remotest capability. The ever-present challenge of realities goads the designer onwards, to keep pushing what’s possible and expected.

Design is personal because it is so social. The communication, interaction, transaction of it all. People (and all their messiness) are the heart of it, from the consumers to the stakeholders and external elements. But also this: designing something amazing necessarily involves intuition, imagination, vision, belief, and desire. Profoundly deeply truly human qualities at the root of humanistic creation & invention, whether it’s a poem, a painting, a car, or a software interface…or a cross-channel service system. It takes heart and integrity and an excruciatingly demanding sense of your own self-worth as a designer, a sense of your own humility against overwhelming odds (thanks to unflinching clients and stakeholders ;-)

Design is personal to me because, I the designer, even when part of a fabulous dedicated cross-functional, geo-located team of incredible talent, must pour my heart and soul into the process, literally becoming that process in all its pain and glory, with all its beautiful buds and excruciating thorns, and its emergent expressions are a reflection of me and my attitudes and beliefs. Design is simply who I am. That’s why design is a personal affair.

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