Design, Erasers and Keyboards

I have a box in the garage full of old drafting tools, compasses, French curves, scales, and little bits of erasers. Even though I Craig’s Listed my drafting table a couple of years ago, I can’t part with the tools. Today I have a computer wired to a bank of monitors and driven by enough software to supply a small university. I’ll never need my set of Rapidograph pens again, but I’ll move them around the house until I’m gone.

Every now and then, I’ll take the set out and clean them, fill one with some high quality ink and doodle a little bit just to reminisce. This exercise reminds me how we used to be hands on. It’s kind of like before the Internet, when we used to know all our neighbors. Now, to a large degree, we socialize in space as well as design is space.

Don’t get me wrong, the computer is a wonderful thing. It used to take weeks to design and draw a set of house plans. Now in a few days I can finish a design and make it do back flips, sing a song and fetch the paper, but there’s something about the computer verses “hands on” that’s missing, especially when it comes to design.

The old adage, “He started in the mail room and worked his way up” correlates more with designing a thing than chronicling corporate success. Most CEOs bypass the mail room by traveling through Exeter and Cambridge. Good design has to begin in the basement. Each client is like a new corporation with it’s own systems and procedures. If you start sorting their mail as you think, instead of how they expect, your invoice will most likely end up in their Dead Letter box.

Designers have to take the time to understand all the client’s expectations. They have to ask questions and questions and more questions so they can understand the client’s needs and what the client’s vision of the final product really is. It’s one thing to understand the nature of design, to be aware of color theory, proportion, materials, spacial configurations, etc., it’s another to allow the client to develop his product through investigative prompting.

One way to look at it: it’s as if the design is already complete and floating around in the client’s head just waiting to be released. A good designer uncovers the client’s thoughts, expectations and needs, directs them away from known pitfalls, applies realistic improvements and produces the client’s vision.

And that takes a hands on approach, something which is perhaps lacking in today’s internet/computer driven world.