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Achieving Design Nirvana & the Stages to Enlightenment

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 09/06/2017 | 4 Minute Read

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By: Bill Less, VP of Design, DuPuis Group

Design is often narrowly defined as Graphic Design. But to me, true design is the designing of ideas—and design nirvana is where the act of design transcends the tactical to the visionary. This is where we, as designers, get to dream big and design the future.

In my design hierarchy, Idea Design is the metaphorical state of enlightenment: birds sing and the clouds part when you’re here. I believe designers are exceptionally good at this type of design, as we naturally want to think and dream without constraints. Often, the toughest part is finding the companies that allow themselves to truly understand and embrace idea design. Some companies that get it, such as Coke, Apple and Nike, but they can be few and far between.

Just beneath idea design is Innovation Design, and this is where designers are involved with the creation of new products, packages, equipment and other tangible touchpoints. Here, the designer is designing along with R&D, marketing, finance and other cross-functional teams.  Although this type of design can stretch among different companies, it’s usually constrained by certain realities such as culture, capital and tradition.

Experience Design is the tipping point between executional and aspirational design. Here’s where the shackles start coming off, as designers are designing experiences. Experiences can take shape in many forms at different companies, but is best defined as the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, journeys, and environments. Package Design tends to be the foundational workhorse that many companies think of when they talk about design. As a broad-brush term, package design can box-in designers who have the ability to do so much more.  

While creative and technical skills will always be paramount to designers, “big-D Design” means designing ideas that break new ground and help shape the future. It is becoming increasingly important for companies to understand the potential of Design if they wish to succeed in this rapidly and constantly changing marketplace. Companies are starting to realize the treasure trove of talent they have in their design departments, viewing them as partners who need to be involved upfront in projects. They respect the designer's ability to imagine where a company can be in five years and to design ideas that will take them there.  

As designers, we need to constantly evolve and reshape the definition of Design. It’s in our best interests, as we’re all on a quest for design enlightenment. This will benefit us and the companies we work for and with. Creating a culture that accepts and rewards idea design is not easy—chances are you’ll hit some resistance to an expanded definition and understanding of Design. Press on, my friends, and please use these ideas to help get you started on your path toward design nirvana:

  1. Work to expand the perception and definition of Design and share it!  
  2. Give your client what they’ve asked for AND a dream-big idea.
  3. Study what others are doing in, and with, Design.
  4. Ask “What if?” at every phase of every project.
  5. Keep a portfolio of your dream big ideas.
  6. Network with others who are expanding the role and definition of Design.
  7. Accept that you may have to change jobs to reach design nirvana.
  8. Build up your strengths outside of traditional design.
  9. Share and compare best Design practices with your peers
  10. Get a mentor, perhaps someone who’s a couple design levels above.  

Bill Less
Bill Less started his career as an illustrator in 1995 and he has progressed through the design hierarchy. Today, he is a VP of Design for the DuPuis Group, an innovation and design agency with offices in Ventura (Calif.), Chicago and Reno.

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