From the C-Word to the D-Word

Designers must take care of the words we use to talk about our work.

Erik Spiekermann, author AuthorErik Spiekermann Followers: 375

When I started to make a living by designing printed pages 35 years ago, I never wasted any thoughts about whether I had now become a «creative». And I’ve always refused to accept the bonus attached to that status, as it usually means that clients don’t give «creative» work much credit when they want solutions to real problems.

Design is an intellectual activity, followed by the application of manual and technical skills. In our work, we use artistic means, like sketching, drawing, painting even. We do not, however, visualize our own ideas, but put our heads and hands at the service of our clients. It is that existential issue that distinguishes us from artists, not so much the «creative» process. The c-word has been used so often, that by now it has come to describe all those activities that cannot be described with reasonable words. Everybody wants to be creative – simply keeping their collar unbuttoned seems to signify creativity for a lot of people. That’s why I avoid the c-word when describing our work.

We do not create; we talk, research, write, apply, program, document: we make stuff. By now, many colleagues won’t go near the c-word. A large design studio couldn’t possibly create – that wouldn’t justify professional day rates. Instead, «creative solutions» are being «developed»; a logo is developed, a process, a Corporate Design. The d-word sounds more like proper scientific work. It conjures up images of endless days in badly aired rooms where great solutions are developed from simple briefs.

Basic elements are developed, then applications, documentations, templates. Usually in the passive form, as that avoids taking sides, owning up to the results of the work. Nobody can be blamed, because the d-word implies an unstoppable process, its outcome being inevitable. I must admit that the painfully slow progress of a design proposal through the hierarchies of decision making in any large corporation can often only be described by the d-word. But what am I to make of a caption like this one (recently seen in a design competition): «Development of a single color address label?»

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Portrait of Joaquín Eduardo Sánchez Mercado
Jul 2014

Not all design activities are equal, not all require the same grade of objectivity and racionality, design is not a science, some designs require some grade of fresh fantasy, innovation, emotion, estetic, without lose your feet. Maybe your type of design you are making require more racionalism than others activities, but I canʼt imagine this world if all design were made only for utility functions. A world without emotion, without estetics, without art, without "creativity".

Portrait of Alejandro Valencia
Jul 2014

si el diseño es o no una ciencia, es un debate abierto te anticipas al darle portazo, en el libro "las ciencias de lo artificial" puedes tomar nota. el juego, el esparcimiento, etc. son funciones útiles, la diversidad y la riqueza cultural, hay que tener cuidado con la"magia" de la palabra "creación", no sea, que actué en nuestra contra.

Portrait of Fernando Casas
Jul 2014

I canʼt believe there are almost no comments to this article. (I guess the language didnʼt help, although there is a translation). Designers DO NOT create, although there is always this romantic aura we wrap ourselves in, thinking that it is divine inspiration what guide us, and therefore, no one else can do our job.

Iʼd like to thank the author for hitting the nail in the head. It is a shame that this article got ignored.

Portrait of Joaquin Varas
Jan 2014

I would say that designers both create and develop, not out of nothing but thanks to our training, knowledge and experience. I think we should just cut the chase, and call what we do designing, because thatʼs what stands in the middle, between creating and developing.


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