Laura Kalbag: Learning to be a designer

Orde Saunders' avatarPublished: by Orde Saunders

Laura Kalbag (@laurakalbag) was talking at Dot York about learning to be a designer, these are my notes from her talk.

When I was about 10 years old I knew I wanted to be a designer.  I later worked out that I wanted to be a graphic designer.  School subjects skewed my perception of design:  art and design, graphic product design.  The output was always aesthetic, it wasn't about the process.

What is common to design practices?  Conceptual planning and ideas, structure and details, constrained creation, making decisions and solving problems.  It's not abut making it look pretty.  A designer doesn't just make things look pretty.  Whatever you do you are probably a designer, it's a role and responsibility not a job title.

What is inspiration - where do you find the little seed that turns into an idea.  What people often mean is "where do you copy things from?"  By copying a process we can understand it.  Every problem we solve though design is unique, the problems can be similar and we can use these similarities. There is no canonical source for resources but copying exactly is bad, you'll end up with a poor copy.  As you progress you'll gain in confidence, we're making less conscious decisions, we're relying on our subconscious more.  We might have to go back and post rationalise our decisions.

As we do more research we save more details often in our subconscious.  We become more efficient at it.  We're doing more focused conscious research.  Design as a practice says constant but the medium changes.  Don't just copy, we need to learn and understand the difference between learning and copying.

We'd like our work to be perfect first time - work becomes interwoven with our self esteem.  Desire for perfection sets us up for a fall.  There are many ways to solve a problem - not just our way.  Stop being precious, don't let your ego get in the way of compromise.  Ego gives us confidence but bravado is harmful.  Keep a balance between confident and arrogance.  Iteration has strength, input from others who understand the context better always makes the design better.  It's always better at the end even if it feels bad during the process.

Specialising gives us more time for practice.  You've got time to focus on knowing the details.  We learn from our own work.  It's not just about doing good work, work on the right projects for the right reasons.  When we're working for money to a point and even then we don't do our best work.  We do our best work when we care, when we create something good - it's the best motivator.  It's not just about the end result, it's about the process to get to the end result.  Our materials is thoughtful decisions and careful consideration of the users.  We need a sense of craftsmanship in our industry.