One of the classes I teach at CCAD is called Professional Practices. It is a hybrid portfolio class that all seniors have to take — one part traditional portfolio critique and one part lecture that includes discussions around the creative economy and what it means to be a designer in the “real world”.
One of the things we always discuss is what design really is, what makes it good, and what does design look like when you are working with or for a professional company or organization. The above visual is what I use to guide the discussion and I think it really captures some of the foundational concepts that designers should use when working on creative projects.
When most people think of design, they think of the center column — the elements that define the experience and the visual language that is created as part of any design activity. This is also, I would argue, the place where most students spend 95% of their academic career. But the reality is that there are many other things that can (and should) influence design. When I talk about creative work, I talk about it as a combination of three equally important activities:
- Creative Direction: The overall strategy for a given set of creative, and where we define what the experience is that we are trying to convey.
- Visual Language: The design itself, and the creation of the elements define that experience.
- Human Experience: The context of the experience, and an investigation of use and behavior.
I have been working professionally as a designer for over 15 years, and rarely have I encountered a project where design alone (the center column) was the solution. I have always believed that design is an inherently cross-disciplinary activity, one that benefits from input from a broad range of domains and I believe it is important for designers of any discipline to understand that while the craft is an important part of what makes design successful, it does not live in a vacuum.
More and more designers are being asked to create an experience, to look across domains and communications channels and craft something that resonates intellectually and emotionally with their audience. This requires an understanding of, and deep collaboration with, equally important disciplines (such as design strategy, creative direction, and user experience) all aligned towards a common goal.