More Designers Need to Think Like Engineers

by . July 28th, 2015

It’s no secret that the personality types that tend to go for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines tend to be different from the types that go for the arts.

Then there’s design.

Design fields are supposed to present an intersection of both STEM and more artistic vocations, and thus should appeal to those with an appreciation of both.

But in practice, it all really depends on how these fields are marketed and how they are perceived by aspiring designers. Industrial design for example, as a rule attracts a different set of people from architecture or graphic design and so on.

But the design industry on the whole seems to be attracting people with the wrong mindsets.

In the case of UCreative’s readers, and YouTheDesigner’s in particular, most of us here work in visual design-related fields or are interested in them. We’ve based this observation on the subjects of posts that generated the most buzz over the past four years, as well as through your responses — or lack thereof — on each post.

It’s pretty apparent that most of our followers lean towards the artistic, intuitive side of things. This isn’t always a bad thing. We need to continually push ourselves into finding out what else we can do to feel our truest. And being able to execute and express an idea in an interesting way feels pretty darn good!

In Jean-Luc Godard’s classic Breathless (1960), a popular writer (played by film director, Jean-Pierre Melville) is asked what his greatest ambition in life is.  He immediately responds:

“To be immortal…then die.”

This quote perhaps best sums up what all artists are after. Perhaps more than anyone, an artist can achieve produce work that transcends their own existence.

Unfortunately, designers are not artists. Or at least, can never completely be. There might artistic elements in what we do, but on a per-project level, we probably will never be able to pursue the kind immortality given to artists.

But we can have the immortality afforded designers. There is only a problem when we forget why we are in the design business.

A purely artistic mindset is rarely helpful for most of the clients we have in most design disciplines. Chances are our clients want designers who can solve problems, preferably in a safe, cost-effective way. Even when they hire you for your sense of aesthetics, they don’t care about your ability to express yourself.

All clients want is that you to create something that works — for them.

Despite what they say, they invariably do not care about your niggling little issues or that you’re a sensitive, misunderstood soul. It really is all about throwing a bunch of things at people who may or may not know what they want, as best as you know how, hoping they agree with your presented solution.

Clients may not know exactly what they want, or what their problems are, but they want them solved.

The artistic side is about finding inspiration from different facets of life in aid of the production of a design, as well as helping the functional design achieve an emotional impact.

In contrast, an engineer’s mindset is one of cause and effect; problems and solutions. A designer needs it in order to understand and articulate what the issues are, and what has to be done to solve them.

Well, that’s the idea.

The artist-engineer dichotomy isn’t necessarily perfect, or true. For instance, without some technical knowledge, it would be impossible to create the tools we need to design or create art. Where would we be without Adobe Photoshop, or DSLR’s, non-toxic pigments, and the knowledge of how to use them?

Again, we have to remind ourselves why we’re in the design business. We’re here to create solutions first. That’s why it helps more than anything, to think like an engineer.

If we are to express ourselves, it should be incidental or second to our first goal, which is to meet our clients’ needs. We can’t do much of that when we’re busy trying to express ourselves.

And that is how you achieve immortality as a designer.

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Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.