Last month, on the 7th June, I attended the Creative Company Conference 2011 in Haarlem. As someone who still feels a bit of a newbie to the world of Design and Business, this was a good opportunity for a crash course in the current themes and issues being raised within the creative industries. If I'm honest I don't tend to go to many conferences, though when I do I always tend to leave feeling inspired and ready to take the world on, so I arrived open minded and ready to learn. However, on this particular occasion I have to admit leaving a bit confused. In particular I was there to see the talk and workshop by Banny Banerjee Associate Professor at Stanford University. For those of you not in the know (which at the time included myself), Banny is working on advancing the field of design by developing new trans- disciplinary processes where "design thinking" can be combine design methodology, technology strategy, human behaviour, and new business processes (his words not mine).

All very interesting stuff. So why did I leave confused I hear you ask? Well, as interesting as the talk was, I was left a bit troubled by a discussion between Banny and a member of the audience. Banny was asked:

"Are you at all worried that the vast majority of your applicants are in fact applicants with business backgrounds rather than design?"

Banny replied: "Yes".

The person in the audience carried on:

"Would you say then that anyone can be a designer?"

To cut a long story short, the conclusion to this question was essentially, "yes".

I have to say I disagree. Saying that everyone is a designer is like saying that if you can change the spark plug on your car then you're a mechanic. I  think a better way to express this might be that, everyone is creative but not everyone is a designer. There has to be a distinction, after all, there is such thing as having a design education – the skills you develop are clearly to a professional standard. The problem is that design and creativity have become buzz words for out-the-box thinking and somewhere in all the hype the meaning of these words has changed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that the words design and creativity should be saved for the creative industry. Clearly business creativity and design creativity are both creative ways of thinking and yet they vastly differ from one another, drawing upon different skill sets and knowledge informing each individual approach and angles for problem solving.

The question of what is design and what makes a designer is an on-going problem, and nothing new, but it is essentially the core of CRISP. One of the key aims of the CRISP programme is to investigate how we can create a more strategic role for the creative industries in service innovation. I think that, as a designer how you define yourself is everything. I remember shortly after graduating coming up with the term "Scenario Design" as a way to describe my work, only to ditch it 6 months later when it became obvious nobody understood what the hell I do (that, and it made me sound like a snob). More recently, I've been calling myself a designer and future thinker. Its descriptive [enough] yet straight to the point (i.e. I'm still OK with it), though ask me again in 6 months what I think...

Published: 31-Aug-2011 10:05


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