In the last few weeks I have been moving from meeting to meeting, introducing myself to new clients and re-connecting with some older ones. Face to face conversation has been at the core of most interactions.
During the time, I have become aware of the many identities others bestow on me: artist, graphic artist, digital artist, the creative, the person who makes logos, sign-maker, event planner, the guy who did that exhibit on the train, the kid who makes things pretty, web-site maker, and I have even been introduced as an architect. Not once in three weeks has anyone (other than in the office space from which I now work) used the term graphic designer, or even the idea of design to refer to me or to what I do.
In the Puerto Rican corporate and academic spheres that I have been exposed to, the practice of design (even if called by other names) is still seen as, talked about, and referred to as an icing on a cake which provides decoration (and an extra boost of sugar) to an already functional product. Designers are not at the decision table, and I have yet encountered one example of design included in a larger strategic process. The techniques, strategies and tools of design thinking are nowhere to be found. The idea of graphic designers having a process and knowledge of specific strategies that might foster innovation is scarce. Inspiration, creativity and talent are still at the core of the generally accepted understanding of how designers work and come up with ideas.
Amidst this myriad landscape of randomly assigned labels, an interesting constant has come to my attention: no matter how or what I am called, when talking about a potential project, I am always asked for the same thing, to do something different. To create something that has not been seen before. The funny part, at least in my head, is that most of the times I am asked to do this something different but I am shown examples of what I am being asked to do. Isn’t this a contradiction in terms?
This problem is not new, and by no means specific to Puerto Rico. It affects all sorts of structures and communication channels. As a response, the Graduate Design Program at NC State University explored a series of thinking strategies and cognitive frameworks that are part of a designer’s way of working: schemas, situatedness, concept mapping, sketching, prototyping, lateral thinking, morphological thinking, and at least ten others were identified as essential tools for an effective design process.
Almost a year later after the project, I have come to value the work that was done in it. As designers who employ, believe and practice design thinking, I now see the importance of sharing with others some of the intricacies of how we work. It is through this way of working that something different can be made; something different in the sense that it can reach an intended group, communicate a message effectively, and produce change all in a sustainable manner.
More knowledge of design thinking should be made public. Only then will we be able to share how our decisions are strategic and grounded, not at the gut level and arbitrary.