The Role of a Designer? Encourage More People to Become Designers

It's fun being a designer. We designers use our hands, heads, and hearts. We get to invent things and then make them into real things--things that we want. We use our heads for strategy, tactics, science, and thinking ahead. We actually make things with our hands: drawings, models, and samples. And we use our own emotions to connect with the hearts so that people will want what we created. The combination is what makes being a designer so interesting and valuable.

Tucker Viemeister

My father, Read Viemeister was an industrial designer--so even as a baby I could hear him brainstorming ideas, watch him make renderings, and then build stuff in the shop. I wanted to be President (back then that was more normal) but I saw that designers changed the world in better ways.

My mother, who was into politics, went to Antioch College and thought that Horace Mann was speaking to her when he said, "Be ashamed to die until you've won some victory for humanity." She may have been "pro choice"--but I had no choice. She made me use my head as well as my talent. I was destined to be an industrial designer--by nurture and nature.

Years later, Steven Holt, then editor of ID Magazine visited me at Smart Design and began telling us about one of our projects. He pointed out references, metaphors, and semantics apparent to him in the design. His riff was actually reverse-engineering the meaning of our work--starting from the result, he wove an explanation transforming our normal thing into some kind of cultural emblem. This was all news to us!

A few years later we hired this intern who was formerly an archaeologist. Beth Mosher had switched to industrial design because she could have more impact designing new artifacts rather than trying to reconstruct a culture from old artifacts. Once I visited the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, with designer Lorraine Wild--and we saw an exhibition that actually changed history before your eyes! You can go there to hear different tapes that let "you decide for yourself" if Nixon was guilty of any crimes. (But the Watergate Gallery is currently closed!)

Even the smallest designs have political ramifications, so everyone is a politician on some scale. Everyone is a designer; some people do it professionally or more consciously than others. But everybody at least designs themselves: In the morning they pick out what clothes to wear. (That's a good example of design quality--some people are really good at making themselves look good, some people wear the same clothes every day. But that's a choice, too, whether they know it or not).

Design is basic: It is what separates humans from other animals. Human choices are what make big changes in the world (and giant meteor collisions). I encourage good design by doing it myself, teaching other designers and showing people how they can make a difference too. I like Huckleberry Finn's fence painting technique: Make it fun. The goal is to encourage more people to be better designers. I'm writing a book about a great example: my dad Read Viemeister, whose whole life was about good design.

Tucker Viemeister

I may have had a head start in my career--now everyone else needs to see that they can use their hands, heads, and hearts to design a better world!

Read Tucker Viemeister's blog What's Cookin'?
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Tucker Viemeister leads the Lab at Rockwell Group, an interactive technology design group combining digital interaction design, modeling, and prototyping for hotels and restaurants, casinos, packaging, and products. The LAB seeks to blur the line between the physical and virtual, exploring and experimenting with interactive digital technology in objects, environments, and stories. Tucker also co-founded the collaborative Studio Red with David Rockwell that was dedicated to innovation for Coca-Cola. Since joining Rockwell Group in 2004, Tucker has been instrumental in the design and development of jetBlue's Marketplace at the JFK International Airport, "Hall of Fragments," an installation that opened the Corderie dell'Arsenale at the 2008 Venice Biennale, a "living wall" for the lobby of the Sheraton Toronto, the traveling Red Lounge for Coca-Cola, and MGM City Centre in Las Vegas.

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13 Comments

  • Tucker Viemeister

    I don't want more people to call themselves designers, i think all three of us (you, your husband and me) that design works on lots of level - some very complex and some very simple. Hopefully the more equipped will attempt the difficult problems - but humans would benefit for raising the overall level!

  • cameron campbell

    Tucker - great first blog - I always appreciate how you share your intimacy with the design profession and take beyond the surface speak.

    Trying to encourage more people to become designers is an intersting topic and a fairly heated topic in our household - both my husband and I are in the design fields.

    We both agree that we should not be encouraging more people to become designers.
    Too many people now think they are "designers" without understanding what "design" means and its true positve effects. We've watched too many projects fail or loose significant quality because of the misunderstanding of design... we call this the "dwellification" of design.

    What we should be doing is encouraging people to be open and be aware of the effects of postive emotional, cognitive and physcial experiences. We need to help others understand the postive short-term and long-term effects of sustianabil design both social and environmental. To let them know that good design is about integrity, that it is important to respect the details and realize every decision (albeit design or business) has a cause and effect. To hlep them undertsand that good design is a powerful source for bringing people together for positive change and growth - it is about civility, optimism and inclusiveness.

    Do I think people all need to be designers to realize the above. No, but encouraging people to question, research, think, be open to the opportunity will open them to a new world and help them focus on what they do best as individuals and part of a community albeit a banker, lawyer, doctor, mother, father, student, etc...

    I'm sure we are saying the same thing - I am just question allowing everyone to feel like they can/are designers.

    That said, greatly looking forward to hearing your thoughts on a more regular basis!

  • Tucker Viemeister

    Yanning: i think Pilippe Starck is talking about designing things for mass production - that's an area where a designer's impact is amplified by huge multiples. 40 years ago, Victor Papenack said "one of the most dangerous professions"
    all that said, how elce are we going to create a better future?

  • Tucker Viemeister

    ooops - clicked too many times!
    Patrick: your generation has a lot of new tools that should amplify your designs!

  • Tucker Viemeister

    it's great to get some feed back on this!
    Bill: my dad inspired a lot of people (including you and me!). You have inspired a lot of people yourself! inspiring other is kind of like being a booster rocket! makes things go faster and higher!

  • Tucker Viemeister

    it's great to get some feed back on this!
    Bill: my dad inspired a lot of people (including you and me!). You have inspired a lot of people yourself! inspiring other is kind of like being a booster rocket! makes things go faster and higher!

  • Tucker Viemeister

    it's great to get some feed back on this!
    Bill: my dad inspired a lot of people (including you and me!). You have inspired a lot of people yourself! inspiring other is kind of like being a booster rocket! makes things go faster and higher!

  • Bill Manns

    TV - Your dad was not only a great designer, he was a wonderful and inspiring man. He sure gave me a good start on my career. Over the years, many times I could hear his words of inspirations and guidance in my mind. He was the real deal, a designer who practiced what he preached! I miss him.

  • Patrick Proctor

    It's interesting, because many of the things that you describe as advantages in your youth (exposure to designers, education, etc.) are now far more widely available to the public via the internet. Many universities are putting courses online for free, journals are available online, and there are communities for fostering innovation. It'll be interesting to see how this generation, with so many more resources at hand, will truly embrace design in new, innovative, and personal ways.

  • Melyana Klue

    The most innovative companies in design will always successfully lead the pack. Think about it: Effective design shapes our world view and determines what we buy.

  • Melyana Klue

    The most innovative companies in design will always successfully lead the pack. Think about it: Effective design shapes our world view and determines what we buy.

  • Yannig Roth

    That's a real eye-opener ! But in some way it doesn't answer a question I'm asking myself these days : Can anyone design the products he purchases, in a world where customization and customer implication are strong trends ?

    And to react to the title of this very post, I just would like to quote Pilippe Starck who said recently to the French Telerama magazine that "to the young people who want to become designers, I say : it's not the right time. Today, we need to fight (against contemporary emergencies). And if they work well, in fiftenn-twenty years, maybe we'll talk about design again".

    That's not what I call an "evangelist"...

  • Melyana Klue

    The most innovative companies in design will always successfully lead the pack. Think about it: Effective design shapes our world view and determines what we buy.