Last week Michael Wolff outlined the three qualities that he believes make a good designer. He maintains you need curiosity, an appreciation of what’s around you and imagination if you are to make a difference through creativity. The last, he says, everyone has – if they care to exercise it – but the first two attributes are fundamental to the creative soul.
Wolff was speaking to second-year design and architecture students taking part in the Young Designers Programme at the Sorrell Foundation in London and, judging by the students’ own presentations, his thoughts fell on very fertile minds. But his words have as much relevance for practicing designers across all disciplines, particularly in tough economic times when the focus can shift towards earning an honest crust rather than creating great design.
Of course, you need to achieve both these objectives. Design is, after all, a commercial pursuit rather than an artform, and part of its power lies in its ability to make a financial difference to clients. But its true potency is in how it improves people’s lives, be they the wheelchair users that David Constantine at Motivation addresses or people using a wayfinding scheme. That is where a designer’s curiosity and appreciation of things come in.
Wolff suggests that good design is more about taking a leap in thinking than perfecting your style. Coming from one so expert at elegant graphics and appropriate communication, we can assume that quality in execution is taken as read, but it is true that most of the greatest design breakthroughs come from a designer asking ‘what if?’. Check out the Design Museum’s current Super Contemporary show if you want evidence.
Wolff is one of a coterie of design champions who have mentored many, and will continue to inspire new generations. But it helps everyone in design to remember why they got into the business in the first place and to re-engage with the values that make for more than merely competent design, however tough the times.