Illustration: Able Parris
In trying to decide if a design career is right for you, it might be helpful to think about the qualities and interests that many designers share, and see if they overlap with your own. Since most high schools don’t offer design courses, it’s not easy to make the connection. Many professional designers don’t come into the field until their twenties or thirties, after they’ve received degrees and even started careers in related disciplines. Many more students attend design school and are disappointed when either the education or the practice (or both) aren’t what they expected.
So who becomes a designer? First and foremost, designers are keen observers and lovers of beautiful and useful objects, messages, and experiences. They pay attention as they move through their day, possessing a hyper awareness of the visual and textual world around them. They make connections and ask questions about how those objects and messages work, what they are, what things look like, and what they mean.
Noticing and appreciating, however, is not enough. Designers have a desire to make and customize things they haven’t seen before, and then share them. Observations lead to wondering what something that doesn’t exist yet would look like, and oftentimes the only way to know what it would be like is to make it. This curiosity is at the core of the designer, and doesn’t always make sense to everyone else.
Designers are also obsessed with clear communication. They obsess over misunderstandings, mistranslations, misappropriations, and missed connections, looking for possible solutions, especially when language doesn’t feel sufficient. Coupled with this is usually a restless desire for order. Designers have a need for completing things, revealing relationships, and simplifying complicated things. Students who enjoy the more verbal, conceptual, and visual side of mathematics often make good designers.
Finally, design requires both introversion and extroversion. A good designer is able to really get close to a problem or project and can work long hours alone towards a solution. At the same time, a designer is an expert in reading people and navigating the needs and desires of a client to eventually shape the experience of the end user. This requires a sense of observation that is not limited to the world of objects and messages, but extends to the relationships humans have with those objects and with each other.
People often become designers because they feel like fulfilling one interest is not enough. An interest in language may point the way towards a life crafting words. An interest in order and structure may lead to an engineering career. An interest in making meaningful things may lead to studying art. An interest in people may lead to studying sociology, psychology, economics, or business. And any combination of these interests will find a home in design.