I am a designer. The term, today employed across various contexts and business models to signify different things, is actually not as hard to understand as many people make it out to be. It basically means that I like a few essential things: sexy typography (this is like the one ring made to rule them all), apple equipment, black t-shirts, fancy eyeglasses, ergonomic pencils, reading about the implications of structuring information, funky-colored shoes, colors, markers, anything Italian, and the smell of old books. (among others) This list is easy to assemble since most of these are stereotypical images society can associate easily with this professional path I have chosen to investigate. And yet, there is one aspect of being a designer that is not as obvious (and sad since it is the best part): as a designer I am in the constant search of problems.
Sounds interesting right? Well, in reality, it is. Yet, being on a constant search for problems to solve brings about a series of problems of its own. The best way I can describe it is that sometimes I find myself in an alternate reality; others talking about the color red and me asking why red?
As a more concrete example, a few nights ago I went to dinner with a few friends to a restaurant that specializes in making sushi with a Caribbean touch (the place adds plantain, alcapurrias, bacalaítos, local fruit sauces, etc). Once the menus arrived, it did not take more than a minute to realize that my friends and I were having a very hard time deciding what to order. Consensus was not happening. The group’s first reaction was to blame me; I had never been, so obviously I was not familiar with the offerings. A debate opened up over the ideal suggestions that I was to be given, and while all of that is going on, I am in my head re-designing the poorly structured piece of information design that has been handed to me by the waitress. Honestly, if the menu’s spacing had been better, I would have understood the offerings much quicker.
In another instance, I recently had the unhappy task of visiting, in person (oh online transactions of the US I miss you so much) one of the offices of the Puerto Rico Electric Company. That place, with not better description, was hell. This was a small room with about 40 people waiting to talk to someone to see if they can be helped. There was bad lighting, no informational signage, 4 service desks but (as can be expected here) only 1 of them offering service, uncomfortable chairs, dirty floors, and a corporate next-turn numbering system that is traditionally used to manage large amounts of people, but here used in a 20 feet by 20 feet area. Some people are yelling, others are yelling on their cell phones, kids are running around, a baby is crying, and in the midst of all of this I am wondering if this company has ever heard the terms experience and service design. That day, I spent 4 hours there, and I came out with my power still not connected, yet, during the first 20 minutes I had come up with about 10 ways to better the service of the location and improve the experience I was having. (and trust me, none of my ideas would cost additional money. It’s all in re-thinking many of the things that were already there.)
In general, I find myself disconnecting from experiences that fail to engage me and such distancing produces an alternate present for me, a space where I try to solve the circumstance in front of me, even if for a second, just so that my head can comfortably rest.
Is this crazy? Hope not. Ok, gotta go to the water company now, can’t wait to re-design that waiting room…