This past weekend, Little Man and I took half a day to get some things done around the house together. The first was the leaky / broken shower faucet. I never installed a shower faucet before, but thanks to the plethora of knowledge on youtube, we were educated in 10 minutes. My 4 year old was extremely interested that there are more pieces to a faucet than just the handle that you turn to make the water come out (he was interested, I was . . . surprised, at the complexity). By the way, a 10 minute youtube video translates to about 150 minutes when you drop pieces of the faucet into the wall. . . . ).
When I attended the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, & Planning, we eventually learned to break “design” down into parts and pieces, to the extent of the study of patterns, repetition, hierarchy, context . . . and on and on. As a novice “designer” at the time, my first inclination was to just try and make it look good (an ultimate result, for sure). Over time, we learned to understand what makes a design work. We were taught what tools to use; a design language could be established (and then, of course, that you were allowed to break all of the rules. . . if you wanted to). Without the proper tools, were we really designing anything, or were we just resolving a portion of the problem with our partial solutions?
When we took apart the faucet, WHO KNEW that there were so many pieces? I mean, really. . . you turn a handle, it opens a valve, and water comes out, right? Except that there were turning limiters, pressure clips, temperature controls, and volume regulators to deal with as well (I’m pretty sure I made a lot of those terms up, but I’m not a plumber). So, we watched the video again to make sure we were making the right decisions. In the end (and 2 trips to the store later), we had solved the problem and had a fully functional faucet again. I would not have attempted this fairly easy fix if it hadn’t been for the descriptive video I found online. Once we understood the parts and pieces, it was much easier to get to our end goal.
In essence, that’s what design is. Just like you can be a great faucet fixer (like, maybe by maintaining all of your parts instead of sending them into the wall cavity), you can be a great designer. . . if you understand the components correctly. Some will argue that design is subjective, and to an extent, I agree. However, there are bad design decisions that can be made during the course of resolving a problem – and you might not even know that these are poor choices without understanding the parts and pieces. Some people inherently “get it”, and that is what makes a good designer.
In our quest for the right tools for the job, Little Man literally got to try out all of the tools, even if it was just touching them to the general area of the faucet. I believe we really only needed 3 tools, but we used about 10 or 12, relying on trial and error & explaining to each other what we thought the tool would be best for in the future (“please, please put the hammer down. I promise you that it will not make our job easier if you slam the faucet with a hammer.). In so many ways, we were building our toolbox for the future. . . for the next problem that we get to fix together.