A Designer – Artist or Engineer?

You really don’t want an ‘engineer’ Designer, but neither do you really want an ‘artist’ Designer. Which inclination, though, makes the best type of Designer?

A long time ago...

I often faced a conundrum during my early days in the Design World – back when I still delighted in drawing cubes with a line down the middle, marvelling at my immense talent having created a ‘Masterpiece’. My role then was to meet clients, listen to their requirements, and by delivering timely solutions according to and beyond their requirements, earn their trust. A team of Designers supported me behind the scenes.

One very special Designer could not help but provide me with beautiful proposals I knew the client would hate, simply because they were not what they had requested in terms of functionality, style, or colour, and because they were so complicated or avantgarde, would never work in a home where low maintenance (and budget, obviously) was explicitly top priority.

At an impasse – since I could not provide a proper solution to the client, which meant I was failing to perform my role, I consulted higher management, and was told many times by these wise, worldly mentors:

“He’s an Artist, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Huh, what?”


Introducing the Creativity Spectrum​

So I learnt – there are Artists sitting on the throne at one extreme of the ‘creativity’ spectrum – they reign ‘supreme’ in the Design World and were reverred for their unreplicable creativity. While the Engineers sit at the foot of the other extreme being regular hardworking individuals – because ‘anybody’ can pick up mundane technical skills.

The Engineer

Is fully rational and produces an end product (solution) that functions very well, but can be so practical that aesthetics are totally left out of the equation.

Hideous solutions that work are acceptable.

The Artist

Mostly produces what he wants according to his free flowing creative (and sometimes self-serving) juices which may result in something beautiful but not necessarily functional.

Beautiful solutions that do not work are acceptable.

The *crazy level goes up from one end of the spectrum to the other. The Engineer is fully normal and rational while the Artist, the contrary. *Crazy, in the sense that one is non-conforming in nature, transcend beyond regular thinking patterns expected by society due to strong personal convictions or inherent inclinations, and courageous enough to express so. 

Artists are perceived to be much more creative since they are free from the restrictions of the important, but mundane.

I’d like a dash of Crazy on the side, please.

Ideally, a Designer needs the ability to move along this continuum (yes – half rational with the ability of going a little over to the crazy side, or be downright bipolar – poor thing!) – and decide often times together with a client on which side of the spectrum a solution would sit.

Ultimately, the client will be the one living with a Designed solution – hence their needs and preferences will be the main determinant.

Striking the Right Balance

A Designer must be able to comprehend and assimilate the needs and preferences of clients, provide the best or optimum solution armed with their expertise and experience given pre-existing conditions, for the right reasons, at the right price, and together with the client decide on necessary compromises either way to achieve a balance of function and aesthetic.

Functionality – The Engineer’s Territory

Functionality sits right at the core of the Designing – as the Design process is one that exists first and foremost to improve existing conditions. Once a (bad) solution has been physically built, it is akin to an itch that cannot be scratched and worse, one that will not go away no matter how much time passes . It would often also be costly and invasive to rectify.

Aesthetics – Where Artists Roam Free,  Well.. Sort of!

Aesthetics, however – that which is seen superficially, coupled with the elusive notion of ‘beauty’, is tricky to define – and really, differs from one eye to the other and tends to change over time. Often, it will be tailored to the client’s preferences, or if indifferent, left to the discretion of a trusted Designer.

A Designer = Fusion (Artist + Engineer)

The most powerful Design work is often a fusion of Artist and Engineer – where excellent functionality is camouflaged by seemingly effortless aesthetics. A deceptively simple appearance that discourages any further thinking.

As the reknowned Italian architect of the 21st century Piero Lissoni put so concisely – “Simplicity is the public face of complexity”.

“Simplicity is the public face of Complexity” – Piero Lissoni

The writer is a Financial Analyst turned Interior Designer – Writer – Wanderer – Illustrator-in-a-Diaper – Lifelong Student sharing experiences along the path of a Design journey that yielded an ROI way beyond humanly possible forecasts.