What do we do

We all get the question “what do you do” on a regular basis. If you are fortunate enough to have an occupation that is well recognised and understood, like acting or being a lawyer, you will simply say what you work with and that will be the end of it. Unfortunately for us product designers our occupation and what it entails, is still a mystery to many. I find the confusion about what we do very understandable as I myself have long struggled with defining that.

 

A couple of years ago, when I got this question in a bar or other setting where a short and easily understandable answer was necessary I used to say: “It is about making sure a product not only looks good, but is also functional and user friendly”. That answer did the trick, but I always felt bad afterwards as I knew it was not the whole truth. The reason for it being a bad answer is that it diminishes what we actually do. It is similar to a dentist saying that his job is about finding and fixing caries. Sure, that is part of the work, but it is not all that a dentist does.

Three lego guys

So what is being a product designer really about then? For me, it is about making sure that the technology and man-made objects in our environment adapt to us, and not the other way around. This is a fairly non-specific answer, but it is hard to get any more precise than that as the type of work product designers do can be very diverse. One product designer could have the assignment of tweaking the colours of a screwdriver in order to make it sell better. Another one could be creating a user friendly control-panel for a nuclear power plant, with the purpose of minimising the risk of human error and catastrophe. Same occupation, very different assignments.

 

Now, if you say that your work is about “making sure that the technology and man-made objects in our environment adapt to us, and not the other way around”, there is a big possibility that you will sound pretentious. I have yet to come up with a solution to that problem, but at least it is an honest answer in my opinion.

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