Nov
02
2009

Label a Designer

If you would ask me what I call myself, I would say “a human being – just like you”.

I don’t like labels and I remember that, on my first business card, I titled myself as an Illustrator. My second contained Illustrator, Designer and Artist. I was trying to identify tags that could explain the kind of work I do – or at that moment did. I was struggling to find my place in the Design – Art World. I was considering to have all round designer on the next one, but I realised that it actually didn’t say anything. Nobody would understand what I actually did by calling myself all round. On my current business card, there is no title. I do have 3-4 web links on them, which I hope explain or cover my field of work.

During my post graduate study, I designed another card, to use for my project. Here I had a different approach. On the front it simply says “YOU ARE GREAT”  and on the back of the card there is a web link to my project. The approach, in this case, was to focus on my receiver and use positive affirmations. Instead of explaining what I did, I attempted to provide him/her an experience.

Recently, I was asked to teach the 1st year students of my former academy. Showing my graduation project, tell about Relational Design and what that means in a SRVD ( Socially Responsive Design) context. There were two things that struck me. 1) even though quite some of the students knew about my work from before, it was still very odd and new to them. 2) they didn’t understand what I did or how I could make a living out of ‘my way of design’. Questions as “So what do you call yourself?” “How do you earn money?” ” How do you approach organisation and institutions, when you want to work for them?” were asked. I felt my answers didn’t satisfy them in the sense that, it didn’t fit their reality of what a designer does, what a designer is and how a designer works.

At that moment, I found it quite surprising. Apparently my work was so accepted during my studies, that I saw it as something so natural and obvious, that I stopped questioning the label it should have. I just didn’t see the necessity of it. Now, I see that for certain groups it needs an explanation and every group needs a different language, a different tone of voice wrapped around the same arguments. Arguments yes. Sometimes it feels like I need to defend everything I stand for, even though I use design for the social good. These students were new to this field of Design and I know that, in their BA education the notion of  more traditional design departments prevails. When you are not exposed to other ways of thinking and working, you can’t know. When you are not encouraged, stimulated and incited to explore every kind of boundary there is – and dare to cross it – you don’t look further. Another experience related to this, was working – voluntary – for 350.org. I was asked to help and organise actions and events for this cause. I found out, that I was perhaps thinking too much in my own language and forgot that I wasn’t working with people who have a creative background. All well hearted people, coming from fields as biology, economy, environmentalism, activism, ecology, etc.

We all had the same aim.

We all had ideas about how this should be done.

Our ideas didn’t align.

I felt and feel that I have some expertise in this. Studying and experimenting on how to reach, engage and empower people, for over 2 years in theory and practice. Though, in the end of this collaboration between various fields – something I like to see as THE solution for many issues – I felt left alone. Likely, because I wasn’t explaining my arguments and reasons in the right way.

Back to my starting point: I still don’t like labels. But I understand the need to be able to explain what I do, to various kind of people. Preferably short and concise. So what am I then? Let’s try some terms and see how that feels and what it says:

Social Designer

Conceptual Designer

Meta Designer

Process Designer

Queen of Creativity

….

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