product designer, cyclist, armchair urbanist

Design That Isn't Problem-solving Is Decoration

Recently, I sat down to create something. I block out about two hours every weekday morning to create – write, design, sketch, whatever. I've been doing this for about a month now, ever since I read and committed to a daily schedule similar to Matthew Smith's delightful Old Man Schedule. But this recent morning was especially notable.

I sat down to create, with nothing to create. No problems to solve. No deadlines to meet… and I couldn't do it. I sat here and stared at my computer screen, thumbed through Dribbble, and opened my email.

After getting really depressed (it's terribly discouraging to get up at 5:00 to make stuff and end up squandering the time), I learned something really important. If I'm not solving a problem, my work is meaningless. Doing art just for fun might be nice, but I'm realizing that it's not nearly as fulfilling as the art of tackling a problem in real life.

In the past, I have fantasized about the ideal designer's life: waking up every day and just designing stuff for fun, and somehow finding a way to get paid for it. Lately, I've modifying that theory. If the things I create don't have these two qualities:

  1. context - predefined constraints
  2. purpose - satisfy a real need

…then I'm just designing in a vacuum and leaking decoration into the world.

Decoration isn't terrible, of course, and some decoration actually does solve a problem (ugliness). But the decoration that does not solve a problem, albeit valid, is not what I excel at and become passionate about.