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What Makes You a Designer

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What Makes You a Designer

By Bob Borson, FAIA October 14, 2018

There are many things I do during a typical day – designing “stuff” is just one very small portion – but I still consider myself a designer more so than a project architect. Since I work at a smallish firm, everyone wears many hats and nobody has just one task or label. To be considered a designer just means you need to think about the design of everything – and I mean everything. Not everything I do is BIG picture design – compared with the overall time spent, very little of it is – but I consider the creation and coordination of the details of every project integral to the process that yields a successful design.


How do you define Designer? [0:45 mark]

Where does Creativity fit in? [2:00 mark]

I started thinking that creativity has more to do with how a person thinks, views, and processes information rather than their ability to draw or paint well. As a result, I think some of the most creative people are scientists – people who don’t generally come to mind when the topic of creativity comes up. But you don’t have to be a genius level intellect to demonstrate creativity. Sometimes it’s about being clever and noticing what’s around you and realizing that you can do something with what you see.


If you don’t see yourself as a designer when you’re doing construction drawings – you’re not in the right job. [10:40 mark]

“You don’t just design buildings, you design details, you design execution … you design the entire process.”


There are many skills a designer must demonstrate, but in my opinion, here are the 6 most important:

Observation [14:17 mark]
If you consider yourself a designer, you make it a point to notice your surroundings. As a characteristic, designers are curious and they take notice and make notes of things others overlook.

Communicators [19:44 mark] 
Designers need to be able to articulate their ideas in a way that builds consensus and fosters an atmosphere of confidence.

Integration [26:18 mark]
And by this I mean they are able to take their ideas and put them into play.

Evaluate [29:18 mark]
Designers need to be able to look at their own work critically and keep the good bits and get rid of the parts that don’t work.

Context [33:18 mark]
Designers are great at understanding context, and context is what enables us to make sense of things and put some sense of order to the task at hand. Context is the bit that allows us to decide if something is relevant … and determining if something is relevant is crucial when designing because if you design a solution to a problem that isn’t relevant in a given context it’s worthless.

Forge Their Own Path [37:39 mark]
Rather than forming a belief of what a solution can or can’t be, designers tend to look at the process and ask themselves “What if?” and “Why not?” Designers often see rules as guidelines and will work along the edges and as a result generally feel unbound by rules that others follow. 



We have decided to introduce a new segment to the podcast. We have been ending each episode with a segment meant to humanize us as individuals while taking a few minutes to talk about what we are doing in our spare time – a segment aptly titled “In My Spare Time”. However, and after some reflection, since there are times when I don’t really seem to have any spare time, I felt like I was forcing the issue and trying to come up with something to talk about (and if you really knew me, you’d know that this is not normally a problem). So after talking with Landon, I decided that in these moments we will cut the IMST segment and add in this new segment that I am going to call “Hypotheticals”.

If you are not familiar with the concept of a hypothetical, let me take a minute and explain it. I will present an imaginary situation or concept (that will almost always be off topic) that we will discuss. For example, the first one I came up with was “Would you work a summer internship for a famous architect for free?” … and we might still use that one someday, but it’s more “Bob” to not play it straight up for our inaugural question. I’d like to think that this will be a segment that will be a lighthearted way to end a segment and as a result, I tend to lean towards more preposterous questions, like this weeks question about how long could you survive in a zoo if all the animals were released from their cages … let’s say it doesn’t end well for Landon but I do okay.

** NOTE** If you have a hypothetical that you would like Landon and me to discuss in a future episode, just list it out in the comment section. If we use your question, we will give you credit and a shout-out in that particular episode. 


Hypothetical [43:00 mark]
Landon and I have different strategies on how best to survive our time in the zoo (I eat from the hot dog stand while Landon’s first move is to “grab a duck”) we both have certain animals that concern us over all others. For me, it the baboons – they seem like hateful creatures that would like to bring me down for sport. As a result, knowing how to survive a baboon encounter might not be something that everyone needs to know, I can assure you that I sleep better knowing that when I round the corner and find myself looking at a pack of baboons, I will know exactly what to do.

When you encounter baboons on a hiking trail (or roaming wild within the zoo you are trapped in), here are a few things to do as well as avoid:

• Remain calm and stand up straight to display a strong and confident yet non-threatening behavior.

• Do not walk through a troop of baboons; instead, wait for an opportunity to walk around them, or wait for them to leave before you proceed.

• If they don’t appear threatened by your presence and if they won’t move from the trail, keep your distance and make a loud noise such as clapping your hands to encourage them to move on.

• Do not smile or show your teeth; male baboons may view this action as a sign of aggression.

• Baboons can mock charge you and sometimes back off when only inches away.

• Get rid of any food that you may have in your hands by securing it in your backpack.

• Be prepared to quickly unclip and leave your backpack if a baboon tries to go after any of your gear or food inside.

• Never feed a baboon, and never try to grab back food or anything else that it takes from you. Baboons can fight aggressively to defend food that they’ve taken.

• Avoid using pepper spray as baboons can interpret it as an attack and act aggressively to fight back.

• If one presents itself aggressively by standing tall, showing its teeth, vocalizing a threat, or charging towards you, don’t make eye contact, and back away slowly without turning your back.
*tips on how to survive a baboon encounter courtesy of Thoughtco.


Where Landon is concerned, this is what you need to know if you are bitten by  a snake:

• Call emergency responders immediately. This is 911 in the US, 999 in the United Kingdom, and 000 in Australia. The key to surviving a venomous snake bite is to get an antivenom as soon as possible.

• While you are waiting, it is important to stay calm. The faster your heart beats, the faster the venom will spread throughout your body. Do not attempt to suck out the venom from the bite; this will not help, it is already spreading.

• Describe the snake to the emergency responders. When you call for help, describe the snake to the emergency responders.

• Stay calm. Try your best to stay calm, still and quiet while traveling to the hospital or waiting for an ambulance. The faster your heart beats the more you increase the blood flow to the bitten area, increasing the spread of the venom.

• Allow the wound to bleed. More blood will come out at first because there are typically anticoagulants in the venom. If a snake bite is deep enough to cause spurting blood immediately apply pressure to the wound.

• Watch for symptoms of a venomous bite. The symptoms vary by what kind of snake it was, the severity of the bite, and the amount of venom injected into the wound.
*tips on what to do in case you are bitten by a snake provided by WikiHow.


There are many paths one can take that can lead you to be considered a “designer” and I certainly haven’t taken or explored a fraction of them all. When I look at the people who inspire me, almost all of them exhibit a handful of admirable qualities that formed the basis for the list of traits I assembled above. All of those traits are things that can improve with effort and determination – it’s part of the reason I think they are so important. If you think you are a designer, you can probably recognize them in yourself. If your aspirations include being called a designer, you can look at those 6 traits and I bet you know which areas need work.

Cheers – and thanks.

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