You know the stereotype in romantic movies when after dating all the wrong guys the girl falls in love with her best friend? That’s kind of like my relationship with design. While I had flings with math and science, design was always there, patiently waiting. I had always overlooked it. It was great, but I never thought it was the right match. Nevertheless design waited for me, always supporting everything I did. If I had to make a poster for a math project, design would help. If I was bored, design would keep me company. No matter where I was and who I was with, I saw it everywhere. And eventually it clicked: I needed design. I fell in love with design and I couldn’t even pinpoint when it happened.
Okay so that’s a pretty dramatic version, but it’s true! There was never a eureka moment and I wasn’t some child design prodigy who idolized Dieter Rams from the age of five. But after pursuing design in college I finally realized that my whole life has been slowly moving towards it. I’ve always liked drawing, and when I was a kid I thought I would be a fashion designer. To say that my original dream of being a fashion designer is dead is an understatement, considering my love for Crocs and lack of overall fashion sense.
My old “fashion” drawings circa 2000. Apparently animal models, bell bottoms and crop tops were trendy.
Once I moved away from fashion, science and math quickly took over. I was good at them and those are the stable, in-demand, high paying careers that parents and teachers tend to push you towards. I also love that they have answers- they’re completely objective. Logic alone though was still not enough for me. Design became the answer.
Design is easy to fall in love with because it can be applied to everything. For me, design isn’t the subject but the lens through which to view the subject. It’s a transitive verb. Design what? Experiences, places, processes? Anything can be designed because it’s a way of thinking. It involves getting in depth information about a topic and empathizing with the user, defining the problem and coming up with solutions that you create and then test. The cycle then starts from the beginning and every time the solutions get better. There isn’t only one answer. Which is scary, but also liberating – something that I never got from math or science.
Rinse and repeat: the design thinking process is a cycle that constantly evolves and improves ideas. (image from the d.school at Stanford University)
This process can be applied to any subject from creating a recipe, to fixing a car, to fighting world hunger. And it keeps working because the process checks itself. If the solution isn’t relevant anymore, you’ll know because when you cycle through to the first stage again, the solution won’t help the user like you thought it would.
Design is powerful. Design comes from listening to stories with an open mind, but it also creates stories. Creating stories that help people understand each other and the world we live in will be even more critical as we look forward to the future. Technology will make many jobs obsolete, but empathy and creativity are much more difficult to automate. Creating solutions that aren’t restricted by norms is how the society will move forward. Constantly evolving ideas will keep the world moving in the right direction. The possibilities are endless, which is why I love design.