Can Anyone Be A Designer? – Guest Article by Matt Sinclair (Part 1/2)

Today we start a two part guest contribution series. Matt Sinclair, founder of Matt Sinclair Design, shares with us his thoughts about a question we and other user co-creation enablers are confronted regularly: ‘Can anyone be a designer?’ A question which often raises the hackles of design professionals…
(more about the author at the end of the article)

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In 2006, Fast Company published a debate article entitled Can Anyone be a Designer? Andrew Keen and Joe Duffy argued the pros and cons and in the end neither one managed to convince the other, but the article raised some interesting questions which services such as those offered by Fluid Forms are increasingly bringing to the attention of professional designers. Questions not only about who has the right to call themselves a ‘designer’, but also about how design itself is defined.

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Joe Duffy began the debate by claiming that

“…everyone plays the part of a designer. Design decisions are made by most everyone, everyday – what should I wear today? What kind of car should I buy? What color? Which options? What about the new sofa for the family room? What design style? Which color and fabric? These actually are design decisions...

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This is an argument I used in an essay early in my design studies. I thought it was insightful, but I was only 17 at the time. Of course, it’s totally wrong. These aren’t design decisions, they’re consumer choices. As Douglas Coupland said in Generation X, shopping is not creating. Arguing that choosing what car to buy is a design decision is like arguing that taking an aspirin is a medical decision, and that therefore I’m playing the part of a doctor, as one designer argued on ProductDesignForums recently.

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Fiat 500 Customisation Toolkit

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Even if there might be a philosophical debate to be had about whether these are design decisions, it doesn’t really help in deciding whether anyone can be a designer. But I don’t believe most consumers see these as design decisions anyway; in my experience most people think of design in terms of taste and aesthetics, and believe that in our post-modern world, everyone is entitled to an opinion on what constitutes good or bad design.

In one sense they are right: one of the things that distinguishes design from art is that design is primarily about solving problems. And so to know whether a particular design is good or bad, you have to ask the people who have used it. But expecting consumers to have an opinion on whether a design is ‘good’, on whether one design solves a problem better than another, is a long way from claiming those consumers are themselves designers.

In Duffy’s definition though, design isn’t about problem solving, it’s about consumer choice, and in his opinion this is a good thing.

As Americans act more like designers, they learn more about the design process, and in exploring it on their own terms, they gain a greater appreciation for the talent that it takes to practice it at the highest levels. They also achieve a better understanding of its importance in their lives.

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Customised PC by Katsuya Matsumura

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If people really were to act more like designers, they might indeed come to a better understanding of why design is important, both aesthetically and functionally. But this is where Fluid Forms, and other companies which offer customisation of products, raise some interesting questions.

By offering tools to consumers which make the unique design of products easier does this raise the consumer’s appreciation of the designer’s skill? After all, people don’t usually come to appreciate things that are easy, they appreciate the skills involved in doing something they themselves find difficult.

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Read the second part of Matt Sinclair’s article

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About the Author:
Matt Sinclair graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1995 with a Masters Degree in Industrial Design Engineering. He worked as part of Nokia’s design team for eight years, first in the UK and later in Finland, before leaving to set up his own consultancy at the end of 2003. Matt Sinclair Design specialises in consumer electronics design and past clients include Benefon, EADS, Nokia, Nordic ID and Siemens. In 2007 Matt began a PhD at Loughborough University, researching how rapid manufacturing technologies will redefine the industrial design process, and the future role of the consumer within product creation; he writes about this work at http://no-retro.com/.

  • pyrotechnic automation

    Design is very important in every things in this world hoe will you be attracted with a product that the design is not that attractive.