What A Graphic Design Does
by Stephanie Reith, O’More Graphic Design Student

O'More College of Design

I’m a graphic designer.

“So, what exactly do you do?”

I get this often. People seem to think that I’m simply a conduit that otherworldly magic flows through. Like design just happens, but the how or why eludes them. I’ve joked many times, “Just one moment, let me hit the Photoshop button.”

I could answer their question with what I create: logos, websites, packaging. That, however, seems reductive to this living, mercurial process. There’s more to design than the polished results. So what is it and why should people try to understand it?

Designer Paul Rand once said, “Design is everything. Everything!” And it is. It’s your clothes, the computer displaying this article, the building you live in, the very letterforms you read now. Designers create our world and the ways in which we interact with it. To think like a designer is to envision solutions that build a synergistic relationship between ourselves and our surroundings; to discern what can make life easier, clearer, and more harmonious. Design thinking is advantageous in solving any problem.

David Kelley is a Stanford professor and founder and managing partner of the innovative, award-winning design firm IDEO. Here, he outlines IDEO’s design thinking process:

O'More College of Design

1) Understand

Before you can solve a problem, you must understand it: study the state of the art, talk to experts, do research. Let’s say you’re sick of back pain; your office setup is the culprit. Immerse yourself in research on ergonomics, alternative chair designs, posture, the physiology of pain. Talk to experts– furniture retailers or designers, occupational therapists, or chiropractors. Quora is your friend.

2) Observation

Next you capture findings and seek insights. Walk around offices. Watch people at their desks. Pay attention to people sitting in non-work environments. Observe postures and physical habits. Who looks comfortable? Who doesn’t? Empathy leads to insight. For those that don’t look comfortable, empathize with why that might be. Is it their desk height? Chair? Bad posture? Monitor placement?

3) Visualization

To visualize solutions, form a point of view: What’s causing workspace discomfort is a setup that isn’t ergonomic and staying in one position all day.

Now build systems or solutions. Keep these quick and loose. Draw a smarter desk setup, map a walking route in or near the office, sketch a chair prototype that’ll encourage better posture. Gather online examples that demonstrate your concepts. Make a list of what’s needed.

4) Iteration

Share your ideas, solutions, and sketches. Crowdsource brainpower. Get feedback from smart people. What works? What doesn’t? Take their input and reflect on it. Refine solutions based on feedback. Generate new solutions. Get feedback. Iterate again.

O'More College of Design


So is design magic? In my work, producing a rabbit is secondary to understanding the audience and hat. The dramatic reveal isn’t the wizardry, the preceding investigation is. This thought process can help solve any problem, not just design obstacles. Whether a polished end-product comes to fruition or not, the magic of design thinking is an invaluable resource for us all.

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