Since I was a kid, I was told I had a gift, and that I was lucky because I am creative. As I got older, I was always amazed by people who thought I was special because it seems like I can pull great design ideas out thin air.
The whole notion was beyond me until I started thinking about the people I thought were gifted — the gymnast who makes a handstand backward off a balance beam effortlessly or the musician who improvises a new song within seconds of hearing a different note or the scientist who discovers a cure for a crippling disease by using unconventional methods.
These talents exist because of how we humans are designed. We don’t have just a brain; we have something more.
In design school, we are taught the skills we need to do our jobs. We are given a few rules to follow, then we are told to start designing something. Some people say, “OK, what do you want me to design?” But others just start without having any input from anyone or anything like a computer.
They’re able to make a design just happen like magic. They are gifted with the innate ability of creativity. This is a human-only trait. Creativity isn’t something that is easily taught, but the skills that are needed to do the job of design can.
Many students today are taught to design by using a computer instead of the way I was taught, which was to design using my eyes and hands. I was taught how to see what makes design good — by looking at an object like a chair or table and defining its parts. What parts of this object work well for the human form, and what parts don’t? Can we rethink those parts to make them better?
I was taught to use my hands to draw. Hand-drawing is a skill most people who have been in design for more than a few decades take for granted. They think of drawing like breathing. But what happens when we use tools other than a pencil and piece of paper to transfer those ideas from our head to something visible? Are we still creative? I would say yes.
The tools we use for transferring the ideas stuck in our head for great design may require a different set of skills, but the creativity is still very much present. Computer drafting and rendering programs that are available today make our jobs more manageable, but they are not the source of our creativity.
People who think design is something that can be done by computers alone don’t really know what design — especially interior design and architecture — is. This is not something you can write an app or develop a software program for. Although some have tried, it is not real design.
For creative designers, our heads are filled with all kinds of stuff, we see ideas for great spaces everywhere. If we are looking at something as simple as a stick, we get the inspiration for a chair or how the walls in a room should be placed. We don’t use a computer for that part of our creative work.
Now, I am sure everyone has been inspired by something they have seen on Pinterest or Instagram, but that’s not creativity. That’s just seeing what is out there and saying, “Wow, how can I make that better?”
Design is not just changing the color or the shape of something, it’s reimagining the form and how it works. The creative person will see it for what it currently is and work to make it something better. They will be inspired by some part of it, and then they will use their gifts to create something new.
Design students who are gifted and talented are not going away. The idea that we can get a great room, building or piece of furniture just by hitting a few buttons on a screen or keyboard is nonsense. Those who think that have a poor understanding what humans bring to the creative process.
Talented designers are born with a gift. When that gift is trained, beautiful things happen, and our lives are better for it. Let’s use our technology for what it is — a tool — and leave our talent to be creative as the uniquely human gift that it is.
Our gifts are special. We need to celebrate them and use them so we don’t forget what it means to be truly human, especially in a technology-driven world where the basic human abilities are overshadowed by our technology. Cherish your gifts, your talent, your human ability to be creative, and pull something wonderful out of thin air that’s inspiring — something no machine can do.
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