I came across an extended interview with Peter Merholz, published in the NextD Journal. It’s an exasperating interview to read, because although the interviewer, GK VanPatter is clearly a sensitive and intelligent person, he seems completely obsessed with design-as-boundaried-profession, which makes him unable to truly understand the first thing that Merholz says.
It’s a common reaction, the retrenchment of beleaguered fields into professional re-definition and defense. We have also seen it in terms of ‘journalism’ in the past decade as well as they have been faced with blogs and other new media. But it’s pointless. Professions aren’t successful because, as VanPatter’s ridiculous hypothetical about heart surgeons suggests, they define themselves as the ones who can do X task, they are successful because they CAN accomplish X task. A CEO of a hospital can’t redefine ‘heart surgery’ such that the janitor can do it, because to try to do so makes it no longer ‘heart surgery’ at all.
The relevance of this is not only important for design, but for all areas of expertise on the web. The ones who understand, deeply, business – users and customers, relevant financial models, business goals, marketing approaches, all of those – are the ones who will be in leadership of organizations, including leading design processes. Designers can complain about it or do something about it – but it must be understood that doing something about it means learning how business works, not laughing at business and demeaning business people and their aesthetics. As Merholz says, it’s up to designers to define their role.