A leaky tap–Design.

Design as a concept is so exciting at first, so much ambiguity around it. All we know is that it’s a space tied to creativity. All us ‘creatives’ with our mind working differently because of our experiences and upbringing have numerous associations with the concept of creativity too. Different things give us that freedom in thought that we are looking for, but we all decide to agree upon this concept of ‘design’.

We nod into it, ready to adapt into this lifestyle that seems to have chosen us. It shall be the one thing that gives us the liberty to think and create, also help people along the way. No one stops anyone, it isn’t like anything else we’ve heard of, no standards set by anyone. Very few even understand its philosophy, so making boundaries and ‘protecting’ it from diluting, like the other saturated fields is far from happening.

Then comes along somebody, a mentor maybe, who has spent long enough in these waters. We realise now what we thought was a puddle is actually an ocean.

“Problem-solving” they call it.

While some of us drift away for we understand how we mistook design for freedom of self-expression, the rest of us like the sound of that, so we stick around, we want to do something that matters.

“Solve problems, it’s a process”, they continue.

We try to look for these problems. “It shouldn’t be so hard to find them, we are cynical beings after all”, we think. At first it was though harder than we thought, but then we found one. It felt good, the ability to identify problems in places people let themselves get comfortable with inconveniences. Then it happened, slowly, we couldn’t stop thinking like that. Everywhere we looked, we found an opportunity to make it better. “I can fix things” we all thought.

“We can find what’s wrong with everything around us, little by little and we can fix it. That’s nice. We like this. We like that we are different. Different from what we used to be.” This was meaningful after all, and not that hard, with some work, we only got better.

But then comes the next phase, when you put one hand on your hip, rub your chin with the other and stare at something you’ve made. This “solving” you’ve been trying to do is not working, it just doesn’t look right. It makes sense to you, but it doesn’t solve the problem without raising plenty others.

You are dissatisfied. You doubt your abilities to make things nicer, better. You ask around and those people swimming in the ocean tell you, “hey it’s iterative, don’t worry”.

You scratch your head, smile embarrassed, and carry on, making your “solution” better. You learn more about it, change bits of it yet again. It’s still far from satisfying you, but you have to stop somewhere, another thing you’ve been told.

Moving on to the next phase, you have a lump in your throat when you present what have you created. It is after all a representation of your thoughts, if they don’t like it, if it doesn’t work, you are bound to be upset. Before you even show it to them, you check yourself one last time. You acknowledge that the problem you promised yourself to work on is not fixed yet. You are in too deep, you know too much—about the problem, about the people involved. The area you decided to work on at first seemed like a small blimp, but you come to terms with the fact that is only the tip of the ice berg.

It dawns upon you that what you’ve made is only a farce. You could build a story around it, and sell the idea, but deep down it doesn’t feel right. You swallow the reality of the magnitude of the situation, accept it and ignore it till you forget about it, it’s someone else’s problem now.

I just want to say that it is not fairest thing to ask one to check the agree box, without sharing the terms and conditions about design being a profession of solving problems. You merely started out as someone who thought had the ability to make the world a better place. Maybe even a little prettier.

I believe that it is important to know, that design is not really problem solving, plumbing is. You got a leaky tap, you tighten a few screws, fix a couple pipes and done, the tap doesn’t leak anymore. That’s the satisfaction we are looking for. But the truth is, that is the the ability we lack. We feel so uncertain about everything we do until we’re used to feeling comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. Design is more than that. It could be described as what we do when we have the ability to think and be creative but lack the ability to fix. Bigger problems in the world—hunger, poverty, the human condition are far from being “fixed”.

Design could be what you do when you don’t have a plumber around when you have a leaky tap. You fill a bowl, you pour the water in a plant, you find a way to use that water, make it less of an inconvenience and give it a slightly different purpose than it had. That’s my answer for now, but who knows it might change, it’s iterative after all.


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