Today I will write a bit about the design profession. “As a designer, you develop new products and services for people”, is what I usually say to people I just met and explain what I do. The question that is asked in reaction to that is mostly something like “oh, so you are really creative then?” Based on that, I guess that a quality of a designer should be that he or she has to be creative and the more creative you are, the better designer you will be. But after my experiences from working at Veeel, is that really the thing that qualifies a product designer? I actually think different.
In the first years of studying Industrial Design Engineering in Delft, drawing skills were the thing. I remember my first year drawing classes were always on a Friday morning, which was for me not the finest moments of the week. And it is very hard to draw straight lines with a shaky hand. So I passed those classes, but not with much glory… The ones that did pass drawing classes with high grades got a lot of respect from the other students. Drawing is a way to convey your ideas and with a slick picture, your idea immediately looks better than it actually is. So without good drawing skills you would always feel a bit inferior towards the drawing kings.
Don’t worry, the fact that I could not draw so good did not make me depressive. I just had to look for something that I could improve more than my sketching skills. Creativity seemed a logical next step for me. A creative idea or concept has a character of originality and freshness. So as long as I was creative, it didn’t matter how I conveyed my ideas. With this in mind, I also began to assess the ideas of the mad-sketching fellow student. I found out that most of the ideas behind the sketches were actually not brilliant at all, and this only reinforced my personal creativity-crusade. This is what got me through my studies, as well as a bunch of common sense and some skills that are needed to generally graduate from university.
And then I started working at Veeel and suddenly I became a real life designer. Products became real and clients became more important, since they are the ones that pay for the project. I noticed that creativity is something that is helpful in specific situations but not throughout the whole process. With the recent user sessions in Kenya, we did not only learn a lot about the products over there, we especially got to know the user. And for me it became clear that it is essential in designing products to see and hear things with your own eyes and ears. In order to do this, empathy is needed. The moment that you are open for people’s stories and that you can really connect with the user, that is when you can gain the essential insights that are needed for product innovation and design. And the user insights will become highly valuable for the client in order to create a competitive advantage in its market.
During the development of ideas and concepts, it is very valuable to be able to validate your thoughts with users. Through creative sessions with user, this can be done in such a way that you validate your own progress and create input for further steps and gradually make a translation of what you think the user needs into tangible product characteristics. So answering my initial thought on the qualities of a designer, I do think sketching skills and creativity are important, however I believe that these skills can be learned. More important for a designer, is to be empathic. This is something that is a lot harder to learn but it will a big advantage when you can connect to the user and process that connection into input for your final design. Only then, the mad sketching can start…