Design and Degree of Difficulty


Setting up for a critique session in one of my classes at UCLA Extension.

Being a designer is perceived by many as a fun job. Designers get to work with colors, shapes and amazing computer programs and be creative for a living. The design field is a natural choice for creative people.

Students often enter a design program and are surprised by the reality that design is a discipline. Design involves theory and practice. It includes psychology and geometry. There is critical thinking and hand skills that need to be developed. There are tools and materials, drawing and technology. There are objectives, expectations and deadlines.

Design takes aesthetic principles and marries them to function. A designer must be visually literate, able to speak the visual language. This involves being able to think both concretely and creatively. In school, theory taught and projects assigned are meant to develop these skills and ingrain them into the emerging designer so that they become innate. Achieving these things is not easy. It takes hard work, long hours, trial and error, evaluation and lots of coffee. Students complain when a project takes all their time or is too hard for them.

What should determine the degree of difficulty for a given project or course of study: a student’s inexperience and assumption that design is supposed to be fun and easy?

We automatically default to our lowest level of effort. This default position results in mediocrity rather than excellence. Most of us become designers to create meaning, to create change or to achieve significance. In none of these cases will mediocrity meet the call. We must be excellent. Excellence requires effort and training.

The design practice isn’t for everyone. Design is not easy. Design is not decoration. It is a discipline. It is naturally difficult. Those who are gifted with visual acumen must still develop the character required to make those creative gifts useful and the skills needed to provide a platform. Those with less talent are not necessarily out of the game, but they must understand that what makes design valuable is not that it’s fun or pretty but that it is the result of a compendium of thought, evaluation, ideas, skill, theory and practice. Competition for design jobs is crowded with talented people exercising various levels of discipline and character development.

When students realize the challenges ahead of them they generally respond in one of two ways: either they say it’s too hard and give up or, or they take up the challenge, press in, work through and allow themselves to be molded into visually literate people with the ability to create the right solution to a stated problem.

The degree of difficulty is determined by the level of competition and the expectations of excellence imposed by the sophisticated, visually-aware marketplace.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Amen.

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