Thinking Like a Designer

This quote from Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind illustrates the problem with the business-focused slide presentation. Think about how many deaths by PowerPoint a bit of design sensibility could prevent...

Tomorrow and Wednesday, I will be talking slide design with Alex’s class. Because I am obsessed with theory and ideology, I begin this lecture as any other by discussing theory, in this case, Nancy Duarte’s theory that great presenters can also think like designers.

In this segment of our 8 hrs. on visual design, we focus on what it means to think like a designer and how this fits in to creating visual stories as opposed to just run of the mill slides.

I generally start by asking the class what they think it means to think like a designer. What are designers like? How do they function? How are they different from the rest of us? How do you know someone is a good designer? All of these questions can lead to a deeper understanding of each of our pre-existing notions of design, whether valid or not. We then move on to Dan Pink, author of the amazing A Whole New Mind, which introduces readers to the 21st century model of thinking and being–the right-brain aptitude driven conceptual approach that leaves knowledge workers in the dust. I share with them a few insights Pink makes regarding design as well as a few of the insights he draws from others.

Pink believes design is important for three reasons. 1. It has become increasingly accessible and ubiquitious. 2. Because of this it becomes an important competitive edge for businesses, and 3. design can change the world!

Design is a classic whole-minded aptitude. It is, to borrow [John] Heskett terms, a combination of utility and significance. A graphic designer must whip up a brochure that is easy to read. That’s utility. But, at it’s most effective, her brochure must also transmit ideas or emotions that the words themselves cannot convey. That’s significance. –Dan Pink, A Whole New Mind

In developing the importance of design in today's world, Pink draws from figures like John Heskett, Chair Professor, School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic.

Another influence in this burgeoning definition of design is data visualizer and infographic genius, David McCandless. In this TED talk, McCandless shares with us his journey into design, his fascination with the dynamic projection of data,what he calls the “new soil,” and shows us just how dynamic and impacting a wonderfully executed visual can be.

I particularly appreciate McCandless’ take on what makes good information design. In essence, a slideshow is just that–the design and organization of data and information into a useful product…at least it should be..

Are you creating eye candy? Rubbish? Which is your area of focus in designing visual aids?

This next segment is something I have not yet used in the classroom. But, I’ve been wanting to integrate Pink’s portfolio section of A Whole New Mind into the classroom. These sections of the text feature some excellent exercises and sage advice to help develop our right-brain aptitudes. I chose a few design exercises that I use to help me develop my designability.

Good design takes practice and a shift in ideological perspective. Pink's exercises work to develop one's design ability.

1. Keep a Design Notebook.

Take note of examples of good design in your everyday life. Pink believes it helps us "understand in a deeper way how design decisions shape our everyday lives."

2. Channel Your Annoyance.

Be like Dyson. Don't like the fan you have? Design a new one. Don't think hand dryers are efficient. Propose a better model.

3. Read Design Magazines.

Pink suggests some excellent reads. Among them Dwell, HOW, Metropolis, and Real Simple.

4. Be Like Karim.

Karim Rashid, prolific designer, developed his own manifesto regarding the place of design in our everyday world. My favorite tenet in his manifesto: Experience is the most important part of living, and the exchange of ideas and human contact is all life really is. Space and objects can encourage increased experiences or distract from our experiences.

5. C-R-A-P-ify your graphic design

CRAP, developed by designer Robin Williams, is a standard to live by in the design world.

I end by sharing this idea with students. Since designers are problem-solvers, they use the mediums available to them to help solve that problem, to enhance the user experience, not detract from it. Good design is experienced, but barely noticed.

Next time, I’ll tackle the means used to create good information design. I call this the Effective Slide Triumvirate (a rule of three). Apply the three concepts of arrangement, visual elements, and animation to create slides that rule.

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5 thoughts on “Thinking Like a Designer

  1. […] Chiara Ojeda taught me absolutely everything I know about visual presentation.  Check out her new blog post: Thinking Like a Designer. […]

  2. Deena Edwards says:

    This is a great post, something I didn’t even know I’m obsessed with. If everyone started to think like designers the world would be a beautiful and peaceful, but it would also put us out of jobs. I’d like businessmen to allow design to influence them and their decisions, but then allow a graphic designer to improve and implement. As a design student we are constantly learning about how to cleanly and efficiently present work and communicate the overall message. I’ve heard (and used) the crap-ify tips but one that I really like and want to use in future design projects is “channel your annoyance”. That has got to be the best and most efficient way to solve a problem.

    • Hi Deena! Thanks for the comment. I do agree that we still need designers in the world. Charles S. Anderson’s talk reinforced this in me–it’s not about everyone being a designer, it’s about cultivating symbiotic relationships between design and other industries and facets of culture and society. Designers are invaluable problem solvers whose input can truly help solve the world’s biggest problems. More collaboration is the key and more problem-solving based thinking can help every one of us improve our craft and our world.

  3. […] NOW to more successfully market your ideas to audiences.  Additionally, Chiara Ojeda’s “Thinking Like a Designer” is a […]

  4. […] Tomorrow and Wednesday, I will be talking slide design with Alex's class. Because I am obsessed with theory and ideology, I begin this lecture as any other by discussing theory, in this case, Nancy…  […]

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