To answer this question, I could go through my life story—armyengineering but that would be rather long and tedious (for me, fascinating for you!). Instead, I’ll skip to the end.
I recognized myself as a designer some time after my first semester in the interaction design graduate program at Carnegie Mellon, about a year ago. I say “recognized” because in retrospect I had been practicing design, but not fully and without understanding design as a rigorous approach to solving problems. Prior to that recognition, I did not think of myself as a designer.
After being educated about and exposed to the design process and design thinking, I realized that the design way of solving problems was not foreign to me and therefore my experience was not zero. But I began to think of myself as a designer only after recognizing that my thinking and my process were designerly. I suppose it was then that I chose to be a designer. By choosing, I committed myself to the development—or the design—of myself as a designer. Being immersed in a graduate program has enabled me to accelerate this process.
That’s not to say that I think everyone needs to go to school to be a designer (it certainly helps). But transitioning from a non-design role to a professional designer isn’t something you can just pick up by reading a couple BusinessWeek articles about design thinking. In fact, I think the current business focus on design, while good in raising awareness of a design approach, may actually be harmful because it does not emphasize the difficulty of producing good solutions, the irrational, nonlinear nature of the process, the need for experience and design wisdom, and the traits that make people good designers. The need for design has been identified, but not how to shift the linear, number-crunching culture to design culture.
But I digress (into thesis paper territory). My point is that being a designer is a journey, a process. It’s not easy, nor is it for everyone. It feels right for me, despite having somewhat blundered into it. So I feel quite lucky to call myself a designer.