Quote by Stale Melvaer on The Conquering Zero

Thursday Thoughts: Stale Melvaer

If you’re reading this, Ms. Melvaer, I am terribly sorry. Google won’t disclose who you are, where you’re from, or what you have accomplished other than illustrating two books. What I do know is that somewhere, somehow, you wrote or spoke a very useful quote. Here it is, and by the way–thanks.

Stop looking at yourself as a designer, and start thinking of yourself as a deliverer of ideas.

I delivered part of a presentation in class this Monday and at the end we led a bit of a discussion. One of the questions that arose was, “Are we as designers (or in this case design students) too self-important?” In other words, do we think we’re just so cool?

I certainly don’t feel that cool right now, sitting in my empty house blowing my nose, nursing a headache, and chugging back tea. But this question is convicting–I’ve never been afraid to tell people that I’m in the *ahem* Graphic Design Advanced Diploma program. Not as prestigious as a university degree (been there, tried that, bought the overpriced sweater) but still something that has a nice ring to it.

Is it any wonder that people like me came into the program viewing design in this way? It has the public face of a supermodel. To the layperson, design is pure glamour. As designers ourselves, we have even more of a biased opinion because we develop taste and appreciation for the discipline.

Here’s the problem that I see: design becomes superficial, especially in the hands of the inexperienced. I like to think that I scoff at trends, but in reality we’re all reeled in by them. Are you reading this on a smartphone? There you go. When I started this program, many of my peers as well as myself were entranced by the “hipster logo” movement. Now I find the word “bespoke” repulsive because it’s trendy to do so.

I like Stale Melvaer’s quote because it knocks me down a peg–I’m not a designer, I’m a problem-solver. I’m a communicator. I’m not making things just because they look pretty or trendy, I’m making them to solve a specific set of challenges. In some ways, this makes me feel better about being in school for design instead of becoming a doctor or a humanitarian worker or a missionary. There’s a purpose to my work too.

Which brings me back to my original question: “Are we as designers too self-important?” Maybe. But as my friend Emma so eloquently responded, everyone has a part to play. Someone’s got to design things, and I think that it’s our responsibility to do that while staying humble and keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground.

Are you wondering what my presentation on Monday was about? I’ll leave you with this: it was about Designism, or the belief that designers can and should use their communicative abilities for social good.

More on that later.

Till next time,


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