What Makes A Person A Designer?

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about design and what it means to be a designer.

As usual, I seem to have generated more questions than answers, but I have had some interesting discussions with colleagues.

For instance, what makes a person a designer?

Is it the ability to see in one’s mind a finished product before it is created and convey the process to create that product to another person?

Is education a factor?

Is the ability to design something one is born with or can it be learned?

While I may not have found answers to all of my questions, I would like to share with you what I have discovered.

I believe that the theory of design is a learned skill. While some designers are gifted and born with talent, not all designers are this fortunate. Most must devote many hours of practice to master the craft. That is me.

Most landscape architects learn the steps to the design process early in school, but I did not study landscape architecture in college. I learned on the job, and over the years I have studied the design process with the help of mentors and on my own in order to become accomplished and confident in my design skills.

I believe there are eight crucial steps in the design process:

1. Identify the problem. Describe the challenge to be solved.

2. Identify the criteria and constraints.

3. Develop possible solutions (preliminary sketches).

4. Select the best possible solutions.

5. Create a preliminary model or prototype (conceptual plan).

6. Test and evaluate the solution (did the design meet the criteria and solve the problem?).

7. Communicate the solution (client presentation).

8. Refine the design.

While other people may have been taught or may follow a different design process, I have found that the above works best for me. I find that when I follow these steps, the design process flows smoothly and I am able to develop an exceptional solution that satisfies the client’s needs.

Early in my career, I would often start a project without following the design process, and the results were less than favorable.

While the client might have been happy, I look back on my early designs and think about how much smoother the process would have been and how much better the design would have been had I established and followed this process then.

Every once in awhile, I find myself working on a design and struggling with a certain aspect. Perhaps the score lines for a new walkway don’t line up with those in an existing walk, or a tree blocks a certain view but cannot be relocated.

When situations such as these arise, I find I need to stop and re-evaluate not only my design, but my design process. Oftentimes, I find that I either overlooked a crucial step early on, or I didn’t properly identify all of the criteria or constraints for the site.

By backing up and re-evaluating my design process, I am able to double check that I have properly covered each of the steps in the process and can be confident that when I am finished, I will have reached the best possible solution.

I believe that this process can be changed or adapted depending on the client’s needs and the project’s requirements.

What is important is that before starting any project, one establishes their design process and follows it until the design is complete.

Is your process different than mine? I would be interested in learning about your approach. Please feel free to leave a comment, send me a tweet or even an email. Have a great weekend!

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on Twitter at @CDGLA or email: bcoleman001@gmail.com.