No Mr. Spool, not everyone is a designer


Sep 10 · 4 min read

Jared Spool, is a professional designer who has made a living designing software and running workshops where he teaches design thinking. I like Jared and he’s a good designer. He is also a designer in the long line of design thought leaders who likes to tell everyone that they’re a designer.

Well, I for one am sick and tired of it. I’ve spent my entire life applying art and design. Thinking about it, practicing it, getting a degree in it and then working at it for over a decade. So have many others like me. I’ve had my soul crushed, buried, resurrected and only to be buried once again in the form of brutal critiques, successes, failures, acceptance and rejection. I like many others have spent countless hours honing a skill and toughening a skin through education and practice. Sadism really.

The correct answer to this tweet should have explained that a manager should communicate a thought or idea to in the clearest way possible. Instead of, YAY! Everyones a designer!

‘Everyone is a designer’

It’s a feel good line that doesn’t really mean anything and under scrutiny it doesn’t hold up. If I told my boss that everyone is a designer his reply would go something like ‘then why am I paying you?’ I couldn’t think of a better way to water down the hard work that designers do on a day to day basis then with this everyone gets a gold star participation trophy nonsense.

Words have meaning

Making a weeknight meal doesn’t make me a cook.

If everyone is a designer, then by the same token everyone is an accountant. Just because I write the occasional angry blog post, does that make me a writer? No. If I change my own oil and brakes does that mean I’m a mechanic? Nope. If I edit some CSS does that make me an engineer? Of course not. In fact, I know engineers that would hunt me down for saying that.

Division of labor

For starters, I’m not an accountant because math is a dark art. No offense accountants but your world frightens and confuses me. Math is pain. As far as sadism goes, one man’s cigarette burns are another man’s high heel ball crushing but I digress. I’m also not an accountant because we already have an accountant. His name is Larry, and if he gave me some scribbles on a piece of paper as he walked away, and started calling himself a designer he would be wrong.

Larry might have a great idea, an efficient or elegant solution, or a napkin with some ketchup stains with debits and credits scribbled on them. It’s a puzzle piece but not a design. Designers are tasked with taking good, bad and ugly ideas and transforming them into good products.

Larry is what social scientists like to call an accountant. Larry is not a designer because he is literally an accountant. I am literally a designer. He accounts and I design. That’s good because division of labor makes us more efficient. This isn’t semantics and it’s not about titles. It’s about words having meaning.

Jared also states that designers need to teach others to design. In theory, I understand this. In practice it’s entirely different. Larry is a busy guy doing whatever it is that accountants do. Balancing books, going home to his wife and kids, or dreaming about embezzling the companies assets and moving to a country with no extradition treaty.

We live in the real world and teaching him my profession isn’t practical. It’s silliness masquerading as wisdom. Larry has a job to do and so do I. If my boss saw me giving Larry design lessons while he should be counting beans, I’d be in some trouble.

What I think he means

To give Jared the benefit of the doubt, I think he means to say that everyone can and should offer input or feedback. Everyone has an opinion and learned experiences that they can contribute in order to make things better. A designer shouldn’t simply discount ideas if they didn’t originate with them or other designers. And he’s right but just because everyone can have a good idea doesn’t make them a designer.

Nor should it because design isn’t simply about generating ideas. Design is about researching and discovering problems, it’s about generating many ideas, testing those ideas, refining ideas and translating ideas into tickets and specs to be developed into something tangible. Creating good design is a labor intensive process that takes time and skill. Being a designer is about accomplishing the big things and the minute details.

I’ve seen designers at the top of their game, to say everyone can do what they do is insulting. Design is not something that happens in a week long workshop or on a piece of paper given to you by your colleagues.

Categorized as UX

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.