Who are Designers?

Hey, Lui here. So, I have my perspective of what I think a designer is. I have now worked (or at least experienced) as three types of designers. Well, not types, more like.. branches..

(A little disclaimer, for this post, I am merely writing down what I think of and have experienced, it’s not based on a book, or other sources.)

Let me make it clear from the beginning, our job doesn’t only require us to be able to draw. Nah, man, we’re more than that.

I have studied Architecture for 4 years and experienced and have been some kind of involved in an Architect’s work flow. I have worked as a Graphic Designer working under a Marketing team for a year. And I am now just started working as an Interaction Designer.

What can I say about all those professions? They are a branch of the same tree. All of them focuses on problem solving, then again that’s what designing generally is. Problem solving is the main job of a designer. They start from a goal that either themselves or others have set for them. An Architect might start from a client’s wish of having a modern and minimalist house, a Graphic Designer might start from a brief that their campaign manager has sent them, and an UI Designer might start from a feature that the company want to add to their app/website.

Mainly, what they have to keep in mind is what and how does the user act. The user in a designer’s case is the main focus. Here’s is where those three professions start to differ. What kinds of things do they want the user to act upon. And how they respond the users is also different. But, in a way, they are still similar.

For an example, an Architect’s focus is how to make a habitable, usable, and comfortable space for the users. For this, they started out by mapping the user’s activity, and we’re not talking a one hour kind of activity here, Architects need to know what the user do on a daily basis, what they do to make themselves comfortable, what calms them down and everything about the user. Of course it’s different if they’re designing for a high rise building, but the principle is almost the same. They need to know what the users do, to be able to both make a space for them and guide them to what the architect needs them to do.

Let me give you an even more detailed example, one day, I was assigned a college task of making a mix-use high rise building, in it, there have to be a shopping mall, a hotel, and an apartment, with an open green space anywhere. What I learned from that assignment is that, more than just making an activity for the users, I also have to guide each users of each functions. A visitor to the shopping mall, should not be able to access the apartment, the apartment users should be able to easily access the shopping mall, but there should be another entry point if they want to go to the hotel and so on. And other than that, an Architect should know what kind of feelings does each part of the building want to convey. A feeling of grandeur when they enter the Hotel’s lobby? A calming pathway directing them to their apartment? An uncomfortable feeling when they pass a certain space? Sometimes even an architect intentionally confuses the user to make sure they don’t go to a certain part of a building. An architect should be able to guide their users from the elements that they designed, be it a clear pathway, an uncomfortable bench or a wall. At the same time being limited by other constraints, such as budget, and constructability. And, being the obvious difference is the medium, an architect creates design in a 3D space while the others are not necessarily the same.

It’s the same but also different with a Graphic Designer. They don’t generally start from what the user’s need, they start from what the brief wants the users to do. Be it to make them buy more products, or to move them to a different mindset. But other than that, a Graphic Designer first have to catch the user’s attention, it’s not that necessary in architecture, because who can ignore a building, right? While there are thousands of ads out there and Graphic Designers have to make sure that they stand out between those other ads. Here is also another difference, whilst an architect’s idea is bounded because of constructability and all that, because the medium in which a Graphic Designer works in, they can put out the craziest idea that they want to do, the constraints in this day and age is more on the social norms, a bad idea might get a backlash from the society, but then again, a bad publicity is a good publicity, so all ideas are in itself a good idea.

The thing about being a Graphic Designer is they need to be able to understand how the user think and act. For example, if I make an ad with a certain image and a certain message, what would the user think? Would they try out the product, or just ignore it? What kind of messages would push the user to do a certain act that we want them to do? How do they perceive the main message that we want to put out? Those kinds of things goes through a designers mind on a daily basis.

For UI/UX Design, it is kind of a combination of both Graphic Design and Architecture in my opinion.  Be it not a combination of the whole thing, but a UI Designer borrows a lot of aspects from both professions. From my experience, being a UI Designer requires them to understand what the user want to do, at the same time, pushing out things that the company want the users to do. And, not only do they need to capture the user’s attention, they also need to make a design that’s easy to understand and interact with.

For example, the company wanted to add a new feature, but the existing design already have too much design elements within them, so, what do the UI Designers do? They plan out what kinds of features are really necessary to be displayed on that page, and start to prioritize the features inside that page, and then start putting things in. After they’ve done all that, they test it out, see which works best. Is putting a button on the top left corner a wise decision? Is it easy enough to reach? Is the icon on the center of the screen distinctive enough? Is this motion really showing the user what they can do with it?

Designing an interface is more than just making something that looks pretty, but also designing something that’s intuitive to the user. Both UI Designer and an Architect must understand how human generally function, they have to know the mindset of the user and be able to facilitate those mindset. And both UI Designer and Graphic Designer needs to be able to create a design that will direct the user where they need to do or go.

To sum up, you can say that the human element that those three professions deals with are quite similar. Both Architecture and UI Design handles more to the tangible aspects of a user’s life, while a Graphic Designer delves more in the untangible stuff. Where Architects and UI Designers control what and how a user touch and interact, a Graphic Designer will entice a user’s interest and interact with them that way.

Designers don’t just create pretty things to look at, they have to first think of what the users need and want, and define a problem in achieving those things that the user might face. Then, they would be able to hopefully solve that problem and help them and achieving those needs and wants.

But.. What do I know, I’m just a designer.