Why I Design

Do you ever think about why you design? Or develop or market or whatever it is you do? You know the events that led you to become a web designer. Was it a conscious decision? Were you following your instincts? Now that you’re here do you know the reasons you stay and continue designing?


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I’m not sure what led me to think about this, but it’s been on my mind recently. I started listing a few reasons in response to the question of why I design and the next thing you know, I had enough to become this post.

My Path to Becoming a Web Designer

I didn’t choose design as a career early in life. I wasn’t sitting around the house drawing all day or showing off my creative output. I didn’t go to school to learn graphic design or web design or any other kind of design.

In the summer of 2000 I found myself working for a dot com that produced ebooks before most people cared about ebooks. One part of my job involved navigating through the code of the ebook, which was a markup language similar to html, though not html. I enjoyed working in the code and found it easier to navigate the book in code than through the content.

In the spring of 2001 the dot com bubble burst and like many companies at the time the one I worked for was struggling. There was a day with massive layoffs and those of us still employed knew it probably wouldn’t last long. I realized the skills I had gained at the job wouldn’t transfer to other jobs and I thought it would be a good idea to add to my skill set.

I started taking continuing education classes through the University of Colorado. First I began a certificate in C++ and not long after I started one in web design. Then I was let go from my job.

Fortunately someone also taking the same classes worked for a company that was hiring software testers and he asked me if I’d be interested. A year later IBM bought the company and because we made a competing product they let most of us go. Once again I was looking for work, only now I had some skills.

Over the year, I had discovered I liked web design more than programming. A friend of mine was also unemployed and together we decided to start a business. She would design and I would develop. Unfortunately neither of us knew much about business and before long what little business we had trailed off to nothing.

She decided this wasn’t her passion and moved on to other things. I decided it was my passion and tried again on my own. I thought I would take what I learned from the first business and see if I could get the second one going.

One of my biggest challenges was having to design as well as develop. I had confidence in my eye being able to tell good from bad, but I didn’t have the skills to create the good. I kept things simple to reduce the possibility of mistakes. I stayed away from illustration and imagery and focused on foundational design principles. I’ve been in business ever since.

Those are the last few steps that led me here, but they don’t really tell you why I design. They don’t tell you what I like about design and why I continue to do it day after day. They only tell you how I arrived here.

Reasons I Design

There are a number of reasons why I design and why I feel passionate about it. Perhaps number one on the list is that being a web designer involves a good mix of left and right brain activities. Design allows me to satisfy my creative side as well as my logical problem solving side.

There’s always something to learn, especially as I both design and develop. The technology keeps changing and there are so many disciplines that help make you a better designer. You can dig deep into a single subject or you can broadly learn across subjects.

I enjoy the nature of my work being in constant flux. Like I said there’s always something new to learn and ways to improve.

When it comes to the freelance aspect of my business I include design and development, blogging, and running a business forum, and all the things I do day to day. I think the combination of these things provides me an opportunity to contribute back to the world in a way that I’m capable of contributing.

And for some reason design is something I find myself wanting to do better. While I began life as a web designer from the front end development side and continue to improve my front end skills, it’s design that mainly pulls me to get better.

Like I said being a web designer let’s me exercise both sides of my brain. I enjoy the problem solving and design is about solving one problem after another. It mixes solving problems with finding new ones to solve.

On the other side I enjoy the art and aesthetic beauty of design. As I recently posted, design isn’t art, but there is a lot of overlap. Both designers and artists are concerned with composition. Both are concerned with balance and flow and visual weight. Both consider color and elements of space and line and shape. Both are interested in concepts like size, scale, and proportion.

Learning to design better helps me understand art better. Design gives me a greater appreciation of objects around me. I think more about how they were created and the decisions made in the process of that creation.

Design gives me a greater appreciation of nature. It helps me see how our world is put together and how it evolved. It helps me see the beauty that’s around us. I think about what it would take to design a flower and if that design would be as good as millions of years of evolution.

Design gives me a greater appreciation of human beings. There are so many disciplines that can help you be a more successful designer. Learning more about disciplines like psychology and physiology helps me design better and also helps me understand people more in general.

It also gives me an appreciation of human beings in the sense of seeing what we can accomplish. It helps me understand some of the things our species has designed and the challenges that were overcome. I think about sending people to the moon and bringing them back and all the decisions that must have been made and it’s hard not to be impressed.

Decisions for Design and Life

At its core, design is about making one good decision after another toward a goal. I believe decisions are made better when you have more and better information to base your decision on. Gathering information is a large part of what it means to be a designer. To become a better designer you have to become a better researcher.

Knowledge is power and better information leads to better decisions. Better decisions generally lead to you being a better you and getting to where you want to go. The lessons learned in making decisions and learned in how you make decisions can be applied to many things beyond design.

You can design anything including your own life. The decisions you make daily will shape who you become. Learning to make better design decisions means learning to make better life decisions. To direct your life toward a goal, make consistent decisions that keep you moving toward something.

Why I Freelance

The freelance aspect of my business offers some additional reasons for why I do what I do. These reasons aren’t specific to web design, though web design is one industry that allows for a freelance lifestyle and work style.

Freelancing offers more freedom over my work and life. It gives me more responsibility for my success or failure. When I do well I get the credit. When I do poorly I get the blame. I like having that control over my success or lack of success.

As a freelancer I have greater control over who I work with and what projects I take on. I get to choose where and when I work. I get to use whatever tools I want to get the job done.

You may have noticed I haven’t offered money as a reason for why I design. Other than mentioning how I’ve been in business awhile there’s nothing here related to the finical. I’m hardly rich, but I’ve been in business about 10 years so I must be doing something right financially.

I don’t want to imply that money isn’t important. It is. We need to pay mortgage or rent. We need to pay for utilities and buy food. However, money isn’t the prime motivator for me. If it was being a freelance web designer was probably not the best career choice.

The potential for more money is there. I can stop designing for clients and design solely for myself. At that point I might be less of a designer and more of an entrepreneur who knows how to design. As it stands I’m a designer and I make enough to meet my needs.

Summary

There are a lot of reasons why I design. Most have to do with the great variety and great depth design provides. It exercises both sides of my brain and there’s a never ending supply of things to learn. You can go deeper into a subject or reach broadly across a variety of different topics, but there’s always more to learn.

Being a freelance designer offers freedom in how I work and how I live. This freedom is why I work for myself. Choosing the who, what, where, when, and how of my work is important to me. The combination of being both designer and freelancer gives me a unique voice from which to contribute.

You might share some of my reasons for why you do what you do and you likely have some different reasons as well. Do you think about them? You know the events that led you where you are, but do you think about why you stay and continue? Do you know why you design or why you develop or market or write or whatever it is you do?

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2 comments

  1. I find myself increasingly drawn to design as well. Like you, I initially started from the frontend development side, and I’m looking to get to the design side more and more.

    I totally value problem solving, and its getting more and more important by the day!

    • I get the feeling we’re not alone. I have a hunch the majority of people working as web designer entered the field by first learning html and css.

      Hang in there with the design stuff. I keep reading and trying to apply what I’ve learned. I wouldn’t call myself a great graphic designer, but I can look back on my work and see how much I’ve improved.

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