Stop Limiting Your Creative Potential: Why Designers must be Multidisciplinary

As designers, we often like to call ourselves problem-solvers. However, if we are to find the best solution to a problem, we should first have a basic understanding of all the potential solutions. For example, consider the different purposes, audiences, and outcomes of a video campaign versus a leaflet campaign. If you only know about one of these mediums, how can you choose the right one?

In order to best understand all the solutions, we need extensive knowledge on a range of subjects. This is not an overnight job, and real mastery takes many years of experience. This is partially recognised in the industry, which is why design jobs are tiered. We often see juniors, mid-weights, and seniors. It is therefore widely accepted that experience makes a better designer and there is no quick route to the top.

We can learn about different creative mediums through traditional teaching in schools and universities, but knowledge can be self-taught through books or resources on the Internet. It can also come from collectives or companies where regularly sharing knowledge is encouraged. Here at Colonel Duck, we often hold skill workshops on our team, so that we can all continue to learn and help each other.

The idea that we should be educated in a range of creative subjects has been around for many years. One of the most famous advocates for this teaching style was Walter Gropius, a pioneering architect who founded the Bauhaus art school in Weimar, in 1919. His goal was to bridge the gap between art and industry by combining them in one course.

This conceptual diagram showing the structure of teaching at the Bauhaus, developed by Gropius in 1922. The programme places ‘building’ (Bau) at the centre of all the activities. In their first year, students were taught the fundamentals: the foundations of material properties, composition, and colour theory.

They then enrolled in workshops, which included carpentry, metalwork, pottery, stained glass, wall painting, weaving, graphics, typography, advertising, and stagecraft. These were generally taught by two people: an artist (called the Form Master), who emphasised theory, and a craftsman, who emphasised techniques and technical processes. By encouraging a complete creative education, students were taught to tackle problems in new ways which they had never been seen before. The Bauhaus changed the way design problems were approached, and revolutionised the way art schools around the world taught.

Almost 100 years later, the same rules can still be applied. By learning the fundamentals of design, we can understand the best way to solve a problem. This is why we call ourselves problem-solvers; it feels more natural to describe the way we approach our work rather than the outcomes produced. We consider the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’. The only difference is that the fundamentals are now a lot more extensive than they were 100 years ago, as the purpose of design in the modern world has changed. We must now understand several areas of visual design, which 99designs lists as; brand identity, marketing and advertising, user interface/user experience, publication, packaging, motion, environmental, and illustration. But I would argue that, from my experience, you also need to include video production, animation, photography, social media, VR/AR, HTML/CSS… The list is extensive, and it only grows larger as technology enhances the way people consume media.

So with all these new technologies making our roles even more expansive, it is important to look at how working with others can split the workload. For example, my team is made up of (and these are loose terms) an animator, a video producer, and a graphic designer. However, our roles can merge depending on the type of work we have on. We all help out when needed and we schedule as a team. The success of our team can partly be attributed to all of us being creative people that can easily learn new skills despite specialising in different types of media.

For those who don’t have a team, it comes down to making those creative decisions yourself and being aware of the extent of your knowledge and your time. Sometimes, knowing when to stop is more important than doing everything yourself. Assessing honestly and realistically what a project would benefit from may lead to getting someone else involved — for example, paying an illustrator instead of attempting to replicate a certain style yourself. However, even just making this decision still requires you to have a basic knowledge of the ways these styles can be used in the first place. You may not always need the skills, but to solve the problem you need to know the solutions.

As designers, we need to continue stepping outside of our comfort zones. We should be changing the boundaries of visual communication, pushing the definition of design, merging disciplines and exploring the unknown. This will allow us to not only focus on solving problems, but on finding the best solutions.

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