See no boundaries

To create patterns is natural. In fact, not only as designers, but also as humans, we make sense of a wild environment by taking haphazard shapes and concepts and giving them form and meaning. We categorize them: poster, website, building, typography, interactive, stone, and so on. Creating categories, then, gives our experiences boundaries.

For designers in this era, however, seeing boundaries can be a disadvantage. At a time when websites are spilling off desktops onto sidewalks and computing in public spaces is dissolving into behavior, technology itself has shown boundary blindness. And humans are following suit. We carry our televisions in our pockets. We pay with our phones. And we read more than ever before on an unpredictable number of screens. It is possible to see beyond the small fences of the familiar, but first you must see no boundaries.

Yet even this is not enough. As you become comfortable in this open field — no matter the discipline — what is common is that you design for people. And an understanding of where design intersects with human behavior is critical to raising both the meaning and value of products and services. The studies of how people think (cognitive psychology), how people interact (interaction design), how people behave (behavioral economics), and the design of services for them (service design) can complement and enhance your understanding of your pursuit.

So, start by reimagining your design studio. It’s not just the place where you have a desk, a chair, and some tools — it is also the place beyond those walls. It is there, in your design studio at large, that you’ll find those who will inspire and instruct you that seeing no boundaries is one of the greatest lessons for a young designer. Going beyond yourself, then, can become a natural extension of your every day.

This essay originally appeared in the 2010 AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design Salaries.