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Design as Showcase or Process

Wayne McMaster

10 April 2015

Showcasing Design

“Could I see some examples of your work?”

This is a common enough request; expected, even. The subtext, of course, is, “Show me your best stuff. Assure me that you can create something that will make the right first impression.”

There’s a place for this, of course. After all, the value of making a first impression is not to be underestimated. But, at the risk of being pedantic, showing off our most attractive work is not showing design. It’s displaying outcomes. And really, without an explanation of how these outcomes have been reached, a portfolio is merely an index of taste or style. At most, it may enable someone else to discern if there’s chemistry there — a shared sensibility, if you like — but at least, it merely demonstrates that we have in fact been allowed to produce some things before. As a vetting method, it’s a profoundly weak one. Good design shapes itself to a variety of factors, least of importance being our taste or “style.” It’s a custom application of expertise, every time.

Inspiration not understanding

A portfolio of finished work can no more elicit a sound judgement about design than any other purely visual experience. It may give you plenty to react to — and perhaps in some particular cases that is enough — but images alone cannot create the level of understanding that is intended to be offered by portfolios. Our portfolio is used purely to elecit inspiration for those looking for it. Design is not just a visual practice, and so it cannot be expected to operate through a visual medium alone. Design is perceived through use, and understood by communication. In order to truly understand the nature of a our work, you’d really need to discuss it with us— how that work came about, for whom, and why. Unfortunately, unless you areprepared spend the time and engage with us.

Not selling Design

This is why we find selling “design” doesn’t work. It’s far too vague to make you feel secure about embarking upon a long and challenging process, especially one that comes with a significant price tag. Talking about design alone is often too abstract, and talking about what design produces is too specific. Goldilocks’ problem.

Allied with Process

But what about the process by which design expertise is applied, and from which emerge those pretty, shiny outcomes? This is the “just right” you are looking for. Process is something we are able to discuss in a specific and concrete way. Process makes you feel safe. It answers your real questions: What’s going to happen? How long will it take? What will I need to do? We look at this in future articles.

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