What about general design?
For now, let’s forget the specifics of design type (vehicle, environmental, architectural, UI, game, level, experience, story, application, combat) – or whatever other kind of qualifier you try and attach to “designer.”
Let’s try and focus on the construction of the work itself.
One of the interesting things about general design is that unless you work to pull a good definition and approach down to Earth, it remains sort of an “aether” idea only.
It just floats around out there.
It doesn’t have a strong meaning for anyone, and its purpose, intent and value becomes literally lost in the translation. This isn’t good for those looking to employ a designer towards an end, or for those looking to add value and contribute by being one.
If you remember Venn diagrams (these show how concepts or classes of objects are logically related):
Part of what you’re doing in your mind as you approach design is you’re moving around the Venn diagram components whether you’re really thinking about it consciously or not.
You’re asking yourself “Can B be a member of A?” – “Is shape B a subset of shape A?” – “Is rule A compatible with rule B?” – “Does dinosaur ambulation suggest vehicle ambulation? How?”
You are re-arranging the logical connections, to see if a new logic that is satisfying or powerful emerges.
At least, this is one of the ways that I like to think about it. You are knocking concepts into each other either combining or segmenting them to see if they will fit together in a new diagram with any kind of harmony or not.
Most of the time, you are playing with concept edges.
So, yes, you knew I’d go there, even in the creation of play, you are playing. What kind of playing? You are playing towards a satisfying result. If you don’t get a satisfying result (and this is judged by your intuition and instinct), you iterate or play some more until you do get a satisfying result. The whole process is meta-heavy and self referential.
You are re-inventing or suspending the logic of connection between classes, items, or objects for the benefit of your audience kind (depending on the kind of design you’re doing).
This is why I think design starts with continuous exposure to concepts: mechanical, logical, shape specific/inclusive, architectural – and why conceptual studies of every kind form the titanium spine for designers. You can do design with no materials. You can stay with just the concept mashing.
But again, this isn’t always easy to quantify, which is why many aren’t really sure what they’re actually looking for in seeking out a type of designer. Too many seem to make the mistake of thinking it’s only transactional (“it’s just drawing” – “it’s 3D application knowledge” – “it’s just writing”).
But it isn’t only transactional or executional. It involves spontaneity and the modular re-affixing of smaller concepts into larger ones, the breaking down of larger ones into smaller ones. This is necessary, but obviously can be difficult to detect.