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Ideas on Ideas: The licensed designer


Design defined as form-giving is the most useful (and defendable) definition of design.

Only when the creative process employs consciously directed design, where designers are employed to add value to content does it makes sense to talk about the value of design.

It makes sense to talk of the design of the iPod because we know that Steve Jobs employs Jonathan Ive to attend to the design of Apple's products. Steve Jobs, not Jonathan Ive is responsible for the creative imperative of Apple's products, he has an exceptional understanding of how and where design adds value to Apple.

Because someone has created something and given it form it does not mean that design is responsible for the existence of the thing. An argument that claims design is responsible for all created things is the same argument religionists use to demonstrate the existence of God – that because things exist they must have been created by a consciously directing agent, hence the absurdity of the creationist-backed 'Intelligent Design' movement. It may be useful to talk of the design of something that has been given form but outside of a design-oriented environment talk of the value of design should be more tightly measured.

Design often gets projected onto created material by designers because designers have a vested interest in promoting design. Most designers promote design well beyond what design can deliver. It should come as no surprise that clients are often confused by what they can expect designers to deliver and that the quality of service varies dramatically from designer to designer. This is a problem unlikely ever to be competently resolved by an educational or professional standards setting body.

Other than content required to define design, design should not be confused with generating content. Design may well assist in enhancing the form of content and in this sense it generates a very particular type of content. This is content generation but only insofar as the terms of design have been employed to develop and enhance the form of created material.

The direct and literal tools of design appear to provide the most solid basis for understanding the limits of design. With a definition of design as form-giving exclusively we can more easily grasp how design adds value to content. Anyone who uses design-oriented tools and presents their work as design, at whatever competency level, should be regarded as a designer.

With such a view of design the problem of a licensed designer is not so important. More important is an understanding of how designers add value to content. A study of the value added within design-oriented environments will most likely reveal that although perhaps added by a creative-led designer, the type of content usually lies outside the remit of design, where the tools of design are not required. The content will most likely have been generated by the designer's grasp of the creative imperatives of the specific project, such as knowledge of a specific market, a particular client's needs, project management, production techniques, and an understanding of the value of design-directed form-giving.

To try to establish a licensing body to qualify design over such a broad range of activities is over-ambitious and mis-guided. Trying to work out where the one activity starts and the other ends is difficult enough.

Practitioners of design may actively involve creative content generation to ensure design is closely associated as an effective and worthwhile activity but design and creativity are best understood as different types of activities. Creative people do not need to design things to be effective, they need to give form to content to express content but the generation of content is not necessarily by design.

Designers would do better to sell design-oriented creativity rather than design as the total value of their creative offering.


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