Why the ‘Everyone Is a Designer’ Debate Is Beside the Point
The ongoing battle for design ownership often ignores the real consequences of making design decisions
There are a few ongoing debates in the world of digital design. Things like Should designers code?”, “What’s the value of design?”, “UX versus UI,” and, perhaps most fundamentally, “Is everyone a designer?” To get a taste for the flavor of that last one, you can step into this Twitter thread from a little while back (TLDR: It didn’t go super well for anyone):
To be clear at the outset, I don’t care if everyone is a designer. However, I’ve been considering this debate for a while and I think there is something interesting here that’s worth further inspection: Why is design a lightning rod for this kind of debate? This doesn’t happen with other disciplines (at least not to the extent it does with design). Few people are walking around asserting that everyone is an engineer, or a marketer, or an accountant, or a product manager. I think the reason sits deep within our societal value system.
Design, as a term, is amorphous. Technically you can design anything from an argument to an economic system and everything in between, and you can do it with any process you see fit. We apply the idea of design to so many things that, professionally, it’s basically a meaningless term without the addition of some modifier: experience design, industrial design, interior design, architectural design, graphic design, fashion design, systems design, and so on. Each is its own discipline with its own practices, terms, processes, and outputs. However, even with its myriad applications and definitions, the term “design” does carry a set of foundational, cultural associations: agency and creativity. The combination of these associations makes it ripe for debates of ownership.
To possess agency means to have the ability to affect outcomes. Without agency we’re just carried by the currents, waiting to see…