“It Takes All Kinds” or “Maybe You Can’t Design”

This post is part of an ongoing series of collaborative conversations. See that initial post for a table of contents of all articles in the series.

Recognizing that “design” can refer to a great many things, this article will focus on web design specifically. I encourage you to mentally translate “web design” as any sort of design, because the same ideas apply, but I think it is significantly simpler and probably more helpful to write specifically rather than ambiguously.

Design takes a whole different sort of thinking. As I struggled to move a sidebar over about two hundred pixels to create a wider content area for my blog posts, I sweated and struggled to make everything line up right without breaking the entire page. After three hours of screwing with it, I gave up. Even if I did finally get everything where and how I kind of wanted it, the site as a whole simply wasn’t right. I could look at my theme and organization and know that it was lacking. The truth of the matter is that I am not only not a designer, but I just can’t do it.

My brain doesn’t work that way, so while I can write at great length on a subject, troubleshoot software incompatibilities with relative ease, and brew a great pot of coffee, I cannot push my way forward with visually artistic endeavours. I enjoy looking at art and architecture and can spend hours upon hours doing so, but I cannot draw, paint, or design my own. I look at a spartan, bland design and think it looks OK–black and white appeals to me just fine, and all the text (the important part) is there, so it’s good–but I recognize at the same time that it is lacking and subsequently fails.

When I was in elementary school, my mother enrolled me in the Phelps School for the Gifted. I had to take an IQ test prior to enrollment to discover/prove that I was in the top 2% of the intelligence quotient (fun fact: Mensa has lower standards for acceptance), after which I began taking classes at Phelps one day a week. Though the classes were altogether interesting, one of the greatest lessons regarded the myriad types of intelligence.

There was a boy in my morning class who, in a regular school, would probably have been referred to as “retarded.” He had a speech impediment, seemed sort of slow, and his social skills were rather lacking. He was a nice enough guy and I sat at his table generally, interacting with him on a regular basis, but he was also difficult to be around or talk with. Yet I knew that he, like me, was a genius. You couldn’t be at this school if you weren’t.

This was my first introduction to the concept that intelligence is not measured in a straight line denoting the retention of facts and figures. Though one person may be a genius with words, another might be a genius with colours and shapes, and another with mathematics. One is no “smarter” than the other–we are all simply different.

It is easy for me to belittle myself for being incapable of producing good visual designs, but it is silly as well. Visual design, or in this case, “web design,” is something at which I am simply no good. That doesn’t make me any less smart, I am simply intelligent in a different way.

And that being the case, the most intelligent thing I can do is to recognize this fact, move on, and find a way around it. A more spurious author might drive their way forward, ignoring their shortcomings and either 1) choose to create for themselves a poor design or 2) choose to pretend that design is irrelevant. In this sort of situation, I think it is better to refer to a master.

If you aren’t good at something, don’t let it get you down. Instead, refer to someone who is good at that task. I don’t try to repair my roof or my car myself, and I go to doctors when I’m really sick, so why should I try and design my website? I’m no good at it, and I recognize that forcing a poor design has negative consequences, so it is best to let someone whose intelligence lends itself to that pursuit take the reins.

It takes all kinds to make a world.

Chris Orcutt posted the following joke on his blog a while back, and I think it is fitting, so I’ll conclude with this:

A published novelist goes to a heart surgeon for some tests. During the exam, the doctor says, “Hey, could you give me the name of your publisher?”

“Sure, why?” says the novelist.

“Well, I have a six-month sabbatical coming up, and I’d like to write a novel and see it published.”

The novelist thinks about this for a moment before replying.

“Sure, sure,” the novelist says, “I can do that. But do me a favor, will you?”

“Name it,” the doctor says.

“Well, I have six months free myself, and I’ve always wanted to perform open-heart surgery. Could you talk to your hospital and set something up for me?”

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