When I applied to the design program of my college, I had to meet with the head of the department. He told me a sentence that is foundational to being a designer, but at the time was total anethema to me.
“The difference between being an artist and being a designer is that artists can just express what’s inside of them, but designers must express what the client wants”.
That was hard for me to swallow. After all, the reason I was going into design was because I loved creating. I’ve always experienced creating something as tapping into what my gut is feeling, and then getting this rush of inspiration, like there is a train billowing into the station in a dramatic cloud of steam, whistling. What is then created, therefore, feels like a part of my bones – my kishkes, if you will. That’s how I create – using this sort of sixth sense, reaching deep inside, and upward- and then putting that into a finished, tangible product. Therefore, anyone looking at a design I make is really looking at a part of myself. That’s beautiful, and it’s also, to my disappointment, too emotionally wracking. Because then, every piece of work that I do is putting a deep, vulnerable part of myself out there for the world to judge. And in a designer’s case, the whole point is for the client to get something that expresses his internal idea.
It was hard to accept what the head of department told me, but as time goes on, I see how internalizing that statement is actually such a helpful tool. I can still create things from that internal place – but those are just fun projects for myself. And I can still use an intuition I have about design in projects for clients. But the best way for me to design is not to put my self into the design, but rather detach myself emotionally from the it. I’m sort of supposed to be the brush in someone else’s hands. That feels hard for my ego, but in terms of creating quickly and efficiently, the detached way is so much more preferable.