Many people understand the design industry to be a service industry. Designers are trained to satisfy their clients, and by doing so, earn their keep and get to do projects with big brands. We learn this at school, and we learn this again when we go into the industry, be it advertising agencies, branding studios, or production houses. It seems like it’s always about the client, and putting the client’s needs right in front of everything else. Client is happy, work gets produced, we get paid. That has been the model for a long time, for many people, and for many studios.

But with it, comes problems as well. Many times, clients don’t understand the creative process, or better still, lack the taste or education to appreciate and demand good work. Many times, the client starts art directing the art directors or designers, and the studio gives in after much resistance, which leads to bad work being produced and put out in the market, and a bunch of unhappy and disappointed designers. Because the clients have the final say, because their hands are clutching onto the wad of money, they hold the power to dictate whether the work will turn out great or utter crap.

As such, I would like to propose a different model for designers.

Perhaps, this approach feels more natural to artists, since they are usually egoistical and refuse to ’service’ anyone. But what if designers, equipped with the skill to create and fabricate content, actually created products themselves? Let us do away with clients, and do away with ’servicing’ big rich corporate companies. Let us try using our skills to actually create something valuable and useful for society or for the market. Let us use design-thinking for what it’s really worth, to solve social problems, or create cultural content that would excite the masses. Would this be a better business model, both for the quality of work and in the economic sense? When a designer is directly interacting with the market, it will be the true test of his work. If enough people become aware of the work, and start engaging with it, whether through purchasing or just using it, then it is successful and qualifies as some sort of good design. Design is good when it becomes relevant to people, and when it affects people in some way or another. In that way, designers are satisfied as well, because they get to control the work they produce, and test the waters directly.

Also, another significant difference is that in this model, ‘design’ becomes the product, and not just an accessory or support for another product, like shoes or beverage, etc. This requires design to play a different role, and designers a different way to think about design. The designer is the author, in this case, which can really be exciting, but also daunting for alot of specialized designers. Not everyone is interested in taking on the whole deal, though. Some people might find joy just in designing the simplest things, like a typeface, and not want to deal with anything else.

Take music for example. In the commercial realm, commercial musicians ’service’ clients as well, by writing tunes or jingles to advertisements. But it is actually more common for musicians to strike out on their own, to create original work which are then launched as albums. The popular ones get fans, and of course the unpopular ones fade into the distance. But it is weird that it is more acceptable in music than in visual art, perhaps because people have this notion that visual art is used to solve problems rather than create content.

With this said, would designers come out differently if we changed the education system? If we trained designers to be entrepreneurs instead of good servants, might we get better ‘design work’?