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Opinion: Respecting Design
Opinion: Respecting Design
June 14, 2011 | By Claire Blackshaw




[Jagex lead designer Claire Blackshaw looks at why it can be difficult for game designers to earn their co-workers' respect and communicate their value, in this #altdevblogaday-reprinted opinion piece.]

I’ve got a question: “Do you respect your designers?”

Growing up, I always wanted to make games, and gravitated to programming as the means to achieve this. I entered the industry as a programmer and had a blast, though I found myself more and more attracted to this strange thing called “Games Design”. Eventually I made the very tough personal decision to switch from a programming role to a design role.

So often hopeful “designers” choose it as a path because they can’t be a programmer or artist, and not because they respect or understand the profession.

Now I still code, and try to stay current as a programmer because I haven’t ruled out the possibility of switching back. The hardest thing for me to deal with was the lack of respect design has as a profession. Truly proving to your non-design peers your profession requires study, diligence and commitment is a tough nut to crack. So where is the source of the problem?

"Given enough time and resource a bad designer can make a good design."

Accidental design, or advancing a design through experimentation, requires very little design skill but a lot of resource. Most people can tell if A feels better than B once implemented, so given the ability to try both options they can compare and then make a choice.

Now this is horribly in-optimal but is the root of the problem in many ways. In most respected professions a vast amount of research, basis of knowledge, or method of thinking is required to advance in professional grade problems.

As a designer I respect once put it, your job description is to “Achieve the most with the least”.

"No one will ever tell a programmer how to code, but everyone will tell you how to design."

Once a design is implemented and tangible, most people can see if A is better than B. Now because of the above factor and the fact most design problems can be explained easily to a laymen because communication is a key design skill, well it means everyone can stick their nose in. Including senior members of the company who should know better.

Honestly, the biggest problem the lack of respect causes is this high level of interference from every Tom, Dick and Harry.

In most high skill professions the execution is the simple part, it’s the diagnosis and formulation of a solution which is the hard part. Now most people could inject medicine with a syringe, finding a vein is not that hard, but knowing when or what to inject is tough. Likewise, the result of a complex design problem seems trivial, and once explained obvious to all involved.

It should be pointed out that artists have this problem to a lesser extent as well. The advantage is that an artist executes the idea without needing to communicate, while most times a designer needs to communicate the solution. So the execution is removed from the diagnosis and formulation, meaning that it can be separated easily and appears trivial.

"Proving a good design premise is like trying to convince someone a song is good only with sheet music."

That being said, trying to convince someone without design knowledge of a complex problem and solution without implementation is tough. Though the onus to convince people is on us as designers. Sadly many bad designers, instead of solving this, use this as camouflage to hide their incompetence.

Now I don’t know the perfect solution, but I would suggest as an industry we need to learn sheet music and conventions by which we can discuss problems. A process that is already happening but slowly. The problem is many poor designers keep rallying against these conventions or building of hard theory basis.

They keep rallying against conventions and theory, expressing their “individuality” or “creativity” or some other fluffy concept as a defense. It’s because “bad” designers, “lazy” designers who are not willing to put in the work, find it easier to have things fluffy. This fog and lack of clarity is the shield they use to hide behind and we need to rally behind the hard theory and science to gain respect as a profession.

I’ve met more bad designers than I would care to admit, and I’ve only ever once worked with a designer I strongly respected.

"Do you respect your designers?"

It all comes back to this question. As a programmer I could see my development, and my peers could see it. I could advance my career and have a clear skill progression path. As a designer I often feel lost, and fear that most my “value” is from the trust I’ve earned from colleagues and is non-transferable to a new company. I study hard, work hard, and know I’m a better designer today than I was yesterday, but I struggle to communicate or measure this development.

Finally my question for my fellow designers, “How do we build up design as a profession?”

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]


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