Looking over my notes from last week, I found the Plumber vs. Designer comparison we discussed to be interesting, particularly as it related to Cross’ excerpt we read. One concept that I took away from the discussion was that when comparing the skills and contributions of a designer (which could be argued are typically less tangible) to those of a plumber (who’s core contributions are more self-evident), there is a notion of exceptional versus utilitarian purpose. From a business perspective, the apparent role of the designer is someone who has a specific set of skills (i.e. a specialization) that are then applied to a particular problem. To be sure, the plumber has the same sort of specialization, albeit in a different field. But that makes the plumber no less vital, particularly when there is a problem to be solved. So why is the profession of plumber classified in a utilitarian sense (along with HVAC workers, electricians, and masons etc.), while the designer is seemingly placed on a separate pedestal?
I believe some answer can be found can be found in the reification of design as a practice. Cross describes designers’ reliance on “intuition” and “intuitive approach” as the separation between designers, and those who’s decisions are not primarily influenced by intuitive judgment (e.g. engineers) (Cross, p9). Drawing attention to this intuition, Cross essentially goes on to reify the design process as a type of exclusive, deeper insight, with designers
…ready, in many ways, to notice particular coincidences in the rhythm of events which other people, because they are less aware and less open to their experience, fail to notice. These designers are able to recognise opportunities in the way coincidences offer prospects and risks for attaining some desirable goal or grand scheme of things. They identify favourable conjectures and become deeply involved, applying their utmost efforts, sometimes “quite forgetting” other people and/ or things only peripherally involved…(Cross, p13)
This is problematic because it sets an expectation for those who hire designers: namely, that their ability to think differently comes at a price of being difficult to work with. And on the other end of the table, designers themselves believe that their abilities, being so hard to make tangible and quantifiable, must be grounded in a sense of extra-sensory insight, their process shrouded by seemingly organic intuition. Both of these perspectives are muddled in the reality of the situation: designers often follow an unorthodox process that inspires their ideas, but they are ultimately grounded in pragmatic problem solving, and stakeholders are open to innovation, but are most receptive when connections can clearly be made from process to solution. In short, reification of design is a two-way street, and both designers and stakeholders are responsible for expectation-setting to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.