I won’t tell you where I found time to read “Strong Words” by Véronique Vienne in the March/April 2007 issue of PRINT, but I did. The article questions the wisdom of changing the AIGA’s name a year ago from “American Institute of Graphic Arts” to “The Professional Association of Design,” and has a very interesting take on defining the job of a designer.

I was sucked into the article because it started by talking about words in general, and the second sentence contained “sex.” But I kept reading because the definitions of “graphic” and “graphics” were explored, and then became quite curious at the mention that the “graphic design label had been a thorn in the side of graphic designers for some time.” I didn’t know.

This followed with a list of titles graphic designers give themselves: visuals editor; image maker, branding specialist, problem solver, information architect. The list reminded me of a conversation I had with some random guy on the ski lift this past Saturday whereby I was attempting, yet again, to define interaction designer. He asked me what kind of job I would get. “Engineering?” (Boy, I must work on my definition if that’s the response.)

Realizing that saying I can get a job as an interaction designer to someone who is asking me what job I can do as an interaction designer would not work, so I listed some titles that he might understand: experience designer, design strategist, not engineering.

Getting back to the article:

“Graphic design professionals had accepted the fact that they had no formal job description. Not being able to explain what you did was an occupational hazard.”

This sounded a lot like my dilemma as an interaction designer, minus the acceptance. Having recently written a paper on what is interaction design, I was really curious about Vienne saying that she encourages her students never to try to explain graphic design to anyone. “You’ll be able to charge more for your services if your clients don’t quite understand the nature of your business.”

That seems to fly in the face of what I have been learning. The current thinking about design at CMU is to educate or involve others in the design process and advance design thinking.

First, I don’t agree with the statement ethically, as it sounds devious and as if money is the primary concern of the designer. Of course, I’m in grad school la-la land, so I may be more idealistic at the moment.

Second, while I still think there will always be some mystery in what designers do, I disagree with there being more value in your work if others don’t know how you got there.

Maybe it works in graphic design that showing an end product without explanation of the process works for clients, but it seems that in interaction design the clients would and should be invested in how you derived your conclusions even if you can’t fully explain the leap of faith along the way.