I design.

I have been doing what I do best without consciously thinking about it.

How does one exactly frame an activity such as “design”?

I have accepted that the act of designing could be a result of skills and experience acquired over the years, reducing the act to systematically build and fit content within a structural framework that is otherwise known as the modern grid and good typography.

Or designing itself could be seen as a problem-solving process, where a problem presents itself in a brief and the designer’s role is to crack it. Even with comprehensive research and analysis, or extensive market survey and focus group studies, the solution itself normally comes from a simple insight — an intuition — which sparks off many design responses.

I have lived my career happily as someone who balances intuition, aesthetics and craft together with strategies and commercial requirements, having produced a volume of work that worked.

My perfectly happy design life was however disrupted in recent years by the newbies in the industry. In design conferences, the younger generation, armed with top-notch design education from prestigious institutions confronted me with questions I couldn’t answer.

“What is your ideation process?”

Ideation is a word that I didn’t know about so I had to look up the dictionary to get a definition: Ideation — /noun: /the formation of ideas or concepts.

So it is not referring to the exact moment when Edison lights up his first bulb, but the dreadful process before that.

That’s when I realised it was a simple question of where do I get ideas. But really, can I define an ideation process for myself? Will I sound stupid if I said the process took place under the perfect blend of hot and cold water from the showerhead?

How about answering “what’s the design thinking behind this?”

When I first heard the phrase design thinking, I could only think of Descartes’ ‘Cogito ergo sum’ (I think therefore I am). After consulting Google, I get it. Design thinking is described as “the process of applying creativity to affect change within organizations”. But I also don’t get it. How am I supposed to respond to a question about design thinking which was referring to the logo I created? I wonder if the person asking the question was as confused as I am with the terminology but was merely saying it to impress me?

I suppose I do sound stupid many times.

More than once, I’ve been asked to comment on building a design ecosystem. I shiver with fear whenever I hear that question being thrown at me. The only response I wanted to make (but refrained) was of a picture of myself being a blue Na’vi roaming through a green forest protecting it from being raped by capitalists.

Protect The Ecosystem.

Lately I have been hearing young people wanting to get into design anthropology.

Almost confusing Indiana Jones for being an anthropologist (although he could be roughly classified as being involved with archaeological anthropology), I was thrilled by the idea of designers wandering into some exotic land, digging into ancient graves to discover the origins of some great lost tribe of Mozambique. To my disappointment, after googling, I got this definition of design anthropology from Swinburne University:

“Less than 20 years old, design anthropology represents the synthesis of academic anthropology with the professional practice of design. It seeks to understand how the processes and artifacts of design help define what it means to be human — how design translates human values into tangible experiences.”

Not exactly Indiana Jones material.

Frankly, as exciting as it sounds — Indiana Jones, Na’vi blue warrior, philosopher Descartes, inventor Edison, I’m ignorant and have got the concepts all wrong.

That’s when I admit I’m old fashioned and I better stick to design.