The art of design vs the business of design- Is the focus on processes failing your growth?

Cheryl Kees Clendenon Designer Drama 14 Comments

So what is this? Can you see what it is? This is how your business might look if you follow the numbers without learning the intricacies of the art of design.

Going Rogue today!

I love a good process- for sure. I would even say I am a numbers person and love a good spreadsheet.  It is my mantra every day to my team- follow the process! To my clients- follow the plan! But are you like much of our food today and- over processed? I see it too often. A great book comes out or a great design coach espouses the tried and true processes- just like I often do too. But- without the foundations of being a skilled designer a good process can be self limiting and keep you from learning the actual art of design. And this is important because it is a life long process within itself and it seems to often be overlooked in the desire to set up processes for doing the work.

But wait- processes are the way right? The key to making money and all the good stuff?

Having  internal processes to your approach is excellent and surely important to a successful business – but sometimes it boggles my brain to see such stringent adhering to a predetermined path that often has overlooked the real aspects of design and collaboration and building relationships with your clients. So many smart folks out there providing great ideas on processes for charging, consultations, presentations and building social media awareness- I cannot help but wonder are we enabling a lot of sizzle to happen without the steak that goes with it?

I like how much there is out there to help educate though- as most of this is not taught in school either- some may have more “rules” and structure and “steps to success”  than this avowed rule breaker can condone, but that is ok as people can take what they need. But I sometimes think too many follow a process without context as to how it applies to their business  in their specific market at their experience level and wonder if we as a design industry are short changing the new people entering the industry?

Design is more than just a business- it is a profession and the skills that go into becoming a meaningful and skilled designer seem to be second to how to charge for your services or with design programs in Universities- how to do computer drawings.

How do you become a  better designer not just a business person?  Oh so many ways!  We all know you do not learn this in school or even how to think about design in an esoteric way.  This is mostly learned on the job- making mistakes- and by being a student of the universe. Developing your senses, being aware of your surroundings and finding inspiration in the most extraordinary ordinary.   It is a challenge you must meet every day in little ways to sharpen your senses. To me this is why so many people who come to design via other fields can really be so incredibly talented. A surefire success when one has life experiences to draw on.

 

Business strategy is all fine and good and necessary  but I eschew the paint by numbers approach to achieve success and  step by step guides should be only an outline not a bible. If you want to rise to a level of success in the field, I believe you must balance the business skills with learning the creative processes to become the best you can be. I wish for this to be a “thing” as well as the business end- and believe me- I am a business person first and a designer second!

Where are the courses/processes/manuals on how to think creatively or to hone and own your unique design approach?

Original creative thought  is often so lacking in new grads we interview- these young designers have been taught to focus on computer skills and rote learning of stats- I doubt most teachers even know the first thing about stimulating creative thinking. We lost some of this as a society when art, PE and outdoor time was eliminated in grade schools. I will not even get started on that!

It evolves through not only questionnaires and initial consults but from feedback and relationship building and brainstorming ideas and solutions. Sometimes ( small one rooms) can be wrapped up nicely with a bow by “step 5” but often is more to it and the mere idea of pieces and parts in a room conveying the essence of good design in the space is absurd. This is why I have been slow to roll out E design offerings- we must work through how this works and maintain the integrity of our business model.

You have got to feel the passion in your blood – not just read a book or take a seminar about how to charge for your time to be a success.

It is a compilation of so much more- and I fear the books, education, “instant design”  online avenues and such that do try and reduce some of the complexities to simple “steps to successful design” are short changing those newer to the industry- as well as clients- and pushes a focus on “getting it done/getting paid” over learning how to create something out of nothing- how to think about a space in ways not relating always to a sofa or chair but to how to infuse your client’s story, persona, and spirit into a living environment that evokes a visceral feeling for them every single time they walk into the room- and to pull it off maintaining good design principles at the same time. 

A willing suspension of disbelief

Trust the process is our mantra- but am speaking of the process to write the story and not get hung up so much on the final chapter from the beginning- part of the experience is a “willing suspension of disbelief” as my drama coach always said prior to a performance and what we tell our clients. The play has to unfold and sometimes the best theater is that of the unexpected. We are the directors of the play. 

You want to be successful? Want clients to release the control and accept your experience and ideas? Get noticed for unique ideas or just well executed spaces?

Learn how to really understand design and why it is so important to our human condition. The process of creating layers of pattern, texture and color that speaks to your client’s spirit in a functional and comfortable execution is what matters.  So much more than selecting a chair or a fabric and giving a client a shopping list or a mood board showing “items”. All of this is important but do not mistake this for being a good designer or practicing the art of design.  It is a life long learning process and honing these skills that make you good- really good. And when this happens- all the processes in the world will matter that much less to your clients because they are buying you- your own brand of secret sauce– that you have developed and honed over time.

Please do not get me wrong as to the validity of the many marketing and business offerings available to designers. Many are great resources for new designers and experienced ones as well- I am a life long learner and if I see something that might save me time or work with my business model then am all for it! Many of my friends sell some of their processes and freely give of their time and this is very generous. I applaud this and if ever had an extra minute might do the same.

My agenda is to bring about an awareness that all the processes in the world will not make you a great designer- this is a completely different animal and would love to see more designers inquiring about and spending the same energy in this arena as well as becoming a good business owner.

Comments 14

  1. Cheryl:

    This IS a brave essay and such an important one for every new designer , and experienced designer, to read. Thanks so much for writing it.

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  2. Thanks Liza- appreciate the read. And by no means am I downplaying processes and such- we are lost without them. But hate to see lost unabandoned creativity and too much “following the someone else’s rules”be the “thing” that keeps people from deviating from the path- sometimes we just need to take an unchartered road.

  3. Thanks for the share and the input. Brave or foolhardy is always a hairs breadth away. But not raining on anyone’s parade- simply wanting designers to stop and say “hmmm”.

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  4. Amen! Couldn’t agree with you more! I see so many designers that think because they now have a good “system” in place, they will be successful That is only one side of the coin. You have to be able to really relate to your clients and produce great design as well.

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  5. Oh, this is so well written! I so totally agree with everything. I do have to add, and I’m sure I’ve just missed it, but I think that once a Designer truly understands the process of design, then I believe wholeheartedly that the art of Design supersedes the process.

    Bravo!

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      Exactly Rose! We follow processes but then we get wrapped up in the artistry of what we are creating and maybe part of the process is voided- even just the excitement of an element and you do not present as you should but text your client- that passion is what makes the client love you and feel the experience. Truly think people have lost sight of design as an experience not just a result.

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