What designers bring to the table, or floor

“Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”  — Japanese proverb

I like daydreaming. And I believe the pleasure I have found in daydreaming has made me what I am — but not without a lot of extra work.
Designers daydream. In some ways, I think this is the place where it starts. It certainly was in my case. Daydreaming allowed me to escape, virtually (long before we so commonly used that word) both from boredom and from a certain amount of discomfort in my environment. The boredom was often occasioned by long stretches on a hard wooden church pew, not ergonomically designed for the restless body of a small boy. I imagined a different one. I daydreamed, which brought me some comfort.
Boredom, curiosity, audacity and being a bit malcontent. All the designers I know hate being bored. We have active minds that need to be fed, so we look around us to find things to engage with. We’re also critical. We don’t necessarily accept the world in the form that it is brought to us. We think it could be better and we have the audacity to think that our version might be an improvement.

What we dream
We come in different flavours. Some of us might be most interested in the “form beautiful.” Others in issues of social justice. Others in mechanical virtuosity. We are most likely to think (daydream) about those things that most closely impinge on us, or interest us. These might be the sports we play, the buildings we live in, the colours of our sunsets, the tools we use, the images we look at or any number of other things.
But there will usually come a time when we realize that our dreams are inadequate just as they are. A life lived daydreaming is not really a life lived. So some of us set out to become capable of turning our dreams into reality. We don’t abandon the dreams. But we do learn how to act on them. This can be a long and rocky road, but some of us choose to take it, rather than set aside that part of us that we feel has the most potential. We become designers. We make our dreams come true.
The road will be difficult. There is a lot to be learned: about form, process, people, business, discipline, stress, confidence. Not everyone we meet will be our friend or ally. But if we can, we persist. We discover how important durability is. And stubbornness. And patience.

A world driven to ‘act’
We will also learn that there is a lot of action without vision out there. In fact, much of what we have rubbed up against, in the wrong way, is instructive. That is why we have been imagining things differently. Many people are not inclined to dream. They don’t understand, as we do, that a vision ought to precede action.
If the requirements of a problem are not adequately thought out, and many possible solutions are not considered, then we are likely to be forced to live with what is boring and uncomfortable. Or maybe even much worse. This is what we have been trying to escape.
It takes a lot of resources to make dreams come true: time, money, talent, intelligence, skill, cooperation and many more. It will require a lot of tolerance for and resistance to the reality that, for many, action is enough.
Once at a meeting I attended, preceding some initiative, the participants were asked to identify themselves. One, proud of his hard-nosed business attitude, declared that he was not a dreamer. When it was my turn, that’s what I asserted I was: a dreamer. And therein lay my value to the venture we were discussing.
Even though it’s not always welcomed, it’s our gift to others and our own delight.

Paul Epp is a professor at OCAD University and chair of its Industrial Design Department.

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