Friday, October 17, 2008

The Designer's Intended Value

Can a quality product be completed without a designer? Sure, if one of two things were true:
  1. Everybody on the production team was fully capable of cohesively visualizing the ramifications of their component before actually implementing it
  2. There was infinite time to iterate on the implementation of bad ideas until they become good ideas
Time is rarely infinite and trusting everyone on the team to maintain a cohesive vision of the product can be a gamble. For that reason, most projects will involve people whose role it is to supplement the team's ability to visualize the details before time is spent on the implementation of those details.

Depending on the industry, these people are called Producers, Directors, Project Managers, or Designers. The idea is that the cost of thinking is cheaper than the cost of doing production work before finding out that it was a bad idea, solution, or plan. The consequence of bad design is a bad product at best and an unfinished product at worst.

So... what are the broad metrics of a designer?
  • Pre-Visualization: Using associative cognition to set a good target in conjunction with analysis of resources to ensure that the target is completed in a form that satisfies the original aesthetic/pragmatic intent. Resources include time, people, tools, and feedback. Iteration can't be avoided, but it does have a cost associated with it. Therefore, one who is really good at pre-visualizing will be of higher value than one who does not hone this ability at all.
  • Two-Way Communication/Relationships: Debates will happen. People will not blindly follow. Reading minds is not standard practice. The designer is not always correct and is unlikely to know everything. Unless the designer is going to implement everything her/himself, this person will need to deal with people factors.
Nobody is perfect, and the same holds true for any Designer, Programmer, Artist, or whatever it is that describes any function for a human being.

The designer is the person who can hold it all in the head and communicate it to a team of collaborators: Scheduling, Planning, Creative Direction... these are all skill sets that can be contained in one person but may need to be delegated to others for large projects. Knowing when to delegate is key along with other skills such as knowing when to take a gamble or cut losses.

In Japan, this job function is not called "designer". Instead, they are called "planners". This seems to be a more accurate term as the emphasis of the function is not on creativity as much as it is on problem solving.