To Design is to Decide

Jon and Joe  "take a minute"  to decide their next move.

Jon and Joe "take a minute" to decide their next move.


On last week’s blog, I mentioned how I wish more designers would write about design with the same kind of precision as some writers who write about writing. A few comments on LinkedIn and Facebook encouraged me to try “designing” design. 

It’s a fascinating idea that I’ve been thinking about all week. I’m still not sure how one would begin to design design (confused yet?). My hunch is that it would need to be visually engaging, and would involve a mix of video and animation. I can imagine the helpfulness of a film that streamlines and examines the tools and processes built into the evolution of logo design excise from start to finish.

I’m reminded of the compelling call for design criticism made by designer Jarret Fuller, thoughtfully communicated through a video essay he produced as a student at MICA. Or, within the world of audio and podcasting, Song Exploder provides musicians a place to dissect and examine the road of their creative process. Together with the host, Hrishikesh Hirway, artists unpack each layer of the studio process, highlighting the trivial or the stories behind a song. It’s wonderful.

Inspired by Song Exploder, I have had the dream of creating a podcast or video blog that explores the journey of the design process. (I’d call it “Process Out Loud.”) I made a prototype earlier this year where I walked through the evolution of the brand identity refresh for a client, Indigo Hippo. It’s rough and way too long— I dare you to watch it

How to go about designing design is one riddle, but another inquiry that has been on my mind is this: why is designing/writing about design so important to me? About half-way through the week, I had my “ah-ha” moment: I realized that to design is to make a series of decisions; some tiny, others gigantic. What I desire is to learn what informed the decision making behind great design. In other words, a peek behind the curtain to see what feeds the wizardry and magic.

It’s one thing to be inspired by and swoon over wizardry and magic (i.e. style), but we designers are often guilty of merely copying aesthetic alone, instead of pulling back the curtain on the mechanics that give life to a project. I’m not against copying, but if anything is to be borrowed, we should begin with the who, what, where, when, and why a design was chosen upon in the first place. 

In the end, our design decisions should be informed by the particular puzzle we’re trying to solve. It benefits us to understand how other designers have solved similar obstacles; how they made similar choices. Take the example seen in Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuthing Sherlock Holmes: often he was found researching historical crimes because he knew how the elements behind a case would usually repeat— the details of a trial from a hundred years ago might be the thing to help him solve a quandary that’s currently vexing him. He’s digging below the surface, for motives and evidence, not an outcome. That’s the motive I hope to bring with “Process Out Loud”— whenever it comes about.

Enjoy the links,


What is your production function? What do you do differently from others that enables you to create what you create? How does what happens in private line up with what happens in public?” I believe mine has something to do with finding the seed that evolves and influences the intentions of my clients' design strategy.

Design as a noun, adjective, and a verb Design is not about finding the most direct journey from A to B. Trial and error along with an open mind are what leads to enlightenment and innovation. As designers we need the curiosity and courage to choose a meandering and unknown trail toward B.”

The 4 Things You Need to Thrive in the Gig Economy “A big distinction between successful independents and the ones who aren’t or go back [to corporate jobs] is getting to that place of knowing what you’re meant to do. That gives me resilience for the ups and downs. It gives me the strength to decline work that isn’t in alignment. It gives me a quality of authenticity and confidence that clients are drawn to. It’s helpful to building or maintaining the business and serving the people I am here to serve.”

On taking the long road After writing this week’s blog I re-read my highlights of this interview with Sarah Nicole Prickett and realized where I inadvertently stole my ah-ha moment. “Writing is all decisions. Putting one morpheme, one word, one clause and one sentence and then one paragraph in order. I can be decisive to the point of judgmental about movies, novels, which car to buy, who to befriend, but in my writing I feel terribly, constitutionally indecisive.” I like how she put it better, but maybe that’s because there again we have a writer writing about writing. 

Why Design Thinking Is Bullshit — “Design thinking marketing needs to stop enchanting industries with a diluted design process. The reduction of a complex creative problem-solving mindset into five steps makes design seem easy when it’s not. A certificate for the completion of a design thinking course is not enough to transform a business into the next Apple. So don’t be deceived by the demystification of the design process or the chance to workshop out million-dollar ideas over post-its. There’s more to design than what design thinking dealers are preaching.”

Wieden+Kennedy Portland create Studio Ghibli-style animation for Travel Oregon More reasons to be excited about Meg’s and my cross-country train trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer.


Kudos to Christopher Maier for edits and Jocelyn Glei for link ideas.