Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Cocktail party conversation on design

“What do you do for a living?”

“I teach design.”

“Oh, what kind of design? Web design? Automotive design?”

“Not quite.”

“What do you design then?”

“Well? What comes to mind when you think of the word design?”

“I don’t know, cars? clothes?”

“Objects right? We often think of design in conjunction with some finished artifact like car design, graphic design, or fashion design, a noun modified by another noun. I actually work more in design as a verb, the process of designing something or coming up with something new.”


“So take, say, this pen for an example. There was definitely the designer who decided how it should look, the grip, the material, and there was a design engineer who made sure that I can click it thousand times and it won’t break. But who came up with the idea of a pen anyway?”

“A designer?”

“Exactly. Before there was a pen, someone had to come up with the idea of a pen right? I mean writing has existed for a long time, and the first things we used were crude like feathers, but successive generation of designers kept improving the tools of writing. Some designer noticed that the ink on traditional pens kept drying up and came up with this ingenious ball point pen mechanism. Another designer noticed that it’s frustrating to use two hands to take off the cap and came up with the click-click mechanism.”

“So you’re in innovation?”

“That’s the word that is often associated my community these days.”

“But how do you teach that? To come up with that lightbulb?”

“I can’t say there is one process. It’s crazy to think that one process of innovation can keep innovating over and over right? I focus more on the mindset and the approach, and try to drill that in through successive exercises and real world simulations.”


“I like to compare design more to sports than science, and when you try to get better at sports, you don’t just drill theory over and over like we do with most academic subjects.”

“You learn by playing.”

“Exactly. By trying it many times, finding out what works and what does’t, and building up your skills and intuition.”


“Thank you. I feel like I’ve been talking your head off though. What do you do?”

This is based off of many cocktail party conversations I had when I lived in Paris. I became pretty good at explaining what I do, which hasn’t always been easy. Now I need to practice the same with my current job in Frankfurt: Concept Developer.


One Response to “Cocktail party conversation on design”

  1. August 14th, 2012 at 2:42 am

    Sarah says:

    Your strategy is better than mine. I have a pretty normal job title but my conversations go like this:

    Q. What do you do?
    A. I’m a project manager in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor at the uni.

    Q. What does that mean? What do you do exactly?
    A. Ummm, bits and pieces. It’s kinda hard to explain.

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