Let's Design like Supertramp


I remember few things of the short time I was in architecture school. I remember the high-carb diet, the ten-minute naps under my studio desk and the rush of pulling an all-nighter. Hard work was the standard and the pace was apt for no slacker. However, what has stuck with me the most is how people relate to each other. In a way, I’d say that the environment created by these connections is both a jungle and a desert.

Let me explain:

On the one hand I used to find myself surrounded by a rich ecosystem of ideas but on the other I was being held back from taking real advantage of it; I couldn´t access the nutrients available to me. This was a dynamic I could recognize not only happening to me but to everyone; it was easy to spot even among teachers. Something in the modus operandi was setting barriers between people and preventing them from interacting outside the established agenda. It looked as if the opportunity for cooperation was taken away and consequently, everyone thought designing was only about delivering; a one-way system in which isolation represented the foundation for a better understating and a better practice. Many students had their own way with it and actually managed to be academically successful. But at the core, I believe they were missing out on what makes this whole endeavor of designing human at all.

I dropped out after three years and let me tell you, back in the “real world” things weren’t really that different. An impressive amount of studios are run by ultra-protective designers that move clients away from the entire process. By keeping their methods pristine, by making the clients leave the work to those who “truly know”, they ignore the very potential for cooperation… it strikes me how much of a contradiction this is. How is it that if your goal is to make the customer happy you’re not even talking to him?

I suppose a great deal of what we do in life is governed by contradictions we cannot always identify, design being no exception, but this specific situation seems to me a bit outrageous. The universal convention says that design is about understanding and arranging. This, however, doesn’t mean that one should come before the other. Encountering the costumer should serve not only as the initial phase, but as the definite norm to be followed at-any-given-moment during the process. In other words, you should constantly be understanding and arranging.

Design should no longer belong only to the designer, but also to the customer, the users. With this, I’m essentially advocating for dialogue, my friends. If the customers know best, let’s meet them, let’s talk to them. It doesn’t suffice to just identify their needs and interests; I’d say it goes all the way to having a summer affair with them (wink). They are the ones that know the secret to the project´s success; they know the ingredients of the special sauce even if they aren’t aware of it. This is where designers come into the game: as true interpreters and translators.

They should be the bridge between an idea and a final product. While arranging, and before employing all those special skills a designer should own, they must understand. In fact, this might be the one special skill they can count on nowadays. Anyone with access to the web can obtain a designer’s basic technical ability. It’s no longer hidden behind a stack of A3 scrolls, endless and boring lectures or shocking amounts of caffeine and sugar. Thanks to the information revolution, it´s one click away. So, what should a designer offer to his clients if they themselves are closer to the possibility of becoming one? I believe his best offer is a teamwork strategy, no isolation.

The threshold towards better design lies in cooperation. Alexander Supertramp, had he been a designer, might as well have written, a few moments away from death: DESIGN, ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.

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