Justin Kropp

What is a designer

I’ve been re-reading Norman Potter’s eloquent What Is a Designer. There are a handful of books that I revisit periodically to both refresh my perspective on and rekindle the relationship with my discipline — graphic design.

With each passing year this book has proven to be more and more imperative as a tool for young designers to use in exploring and shaping their practice. Potter positions design as a serious act of intellectual enquiry. The following passages always resonate with me in a profound way:

On design education principles:

The reality factors in academic life may appear to derive less from studio project work, which is always imperfectly ‘real’, than from the discussion that surrounds such work, the exploration of angles of attack, and the slow take-up represented by the experience of community.

Design education must, by its nature, dig below the surface, and must at the outset be more concerned to clarify intentions than to get good results.

On good design:

For the designer, good design is the generous and pertinent response to the full context of a design opportunity, whether large or small, and the quality of the outcome resides in a close and truthful correspondence between form and meaning. The meaning of a good garden spade is seen in its behavior, that it performs well; in its look and feel, its strength and required durability; in a directness of address through the simple expression of its function.

That last bit — a directness of address through the simple expression of its function. So good. Adhering to this as a consistent and applied principle of digital product design could alleviate much of the ubiquity of atrocious user experiences.