What I learned about Design

When people asked me about what I was studying at CCA (California College of the Arts), I always just said “Design!“, and then people would say “Oh, so you are like a graphic designer?” “Do you design logos?” “You must be good at drawing!” But actually it’s not like that, the Design I learned is more about the methodology of bringing a product / service / experience for people to engage, to appreciate, and to reimagine the possibilities.

Before I came to CCA, I thought design is about being creative and making things look nicer, but it’s much more than that. I started to read lots of books about design when I was in the military, learning more about the idea of design, and at the same time looking for schools to apply. I got caught up in the “design thinking” process, believing that design could be about solving real-world problems, and “making a dent in the universe.” CCA is one of the schools that deeply influenced by design thinking.

While studying at CCA, I learned mostly about how to think and communicate like a designer, and furthermore become a design leader. We learned about research methods, business of design, and also principles in three different disciplines: graphic design, industrial design and interaction design. At CCA we emphasized more on how you think during the process rather than executing the final products; they won’t teach you design softwares in grad school, but you still need the skills to carry on different projects.

So back to the question, how would I explain to people the design I learned at CCA? As I said, “the methodology of bringing products to people.” It’s about people, product, and methodology.

First, people. We don’t want to spend lots of time creating awesome features that no one uses, so we have to understand people’s need by conducting interviews, and clearly define the problems we want to solve. That’s a lot to learn, but it could be mastered by people with no art background, such as psychologist, anthropologist, etc.. This type of approach is often referred as “Human-centered Design.”

Second, product. A product could be a physical object, a digital interface, or a walkthrough experience. It’s related to the execution skills you have to bring the product to life, such as visual design, industrial design, or interaction design, etc. The final product and the execution skill are usually what people perceive as design, but the thinking behind the products is the one that takes huge effort in order to make things work.

Third, methodology. Methodology is about how to come up with design ideas and communicate your ideas to people. Since designers have limited knowledge but have to work on all sorts of design projects, we need to know how to brainstorm ideas with experts and research about different industries in a team. We also need the skills to provide low-fidelity concept sketches or high-fidelity prototypes to convey our ideas to clients. Storytelling plays an important part in this.

These are just some thoughts about the design I learned that I wanted to share. I believe that more and more people will understand design and the importance of it. In the future I think design will continue to evolve like a living thing that keeps pivoting to provide people better experiences. That said, my thoughts about design will also change as I learn more it.