Between the modes of Research, Making and Facilitation, Designers translate understanding.

Diagram of a circular process: designers are makers, designers are facilitators, designers are researchers.

We can spend all day defining the modes of design, or we can think about designers as people that move between modes. Translation gives us a good way of thinking about what we do when we move between modes.

Last week, Chris had the great pleasure of presenting at the very first Service Design Now here in Melbourne. Our presentation was titled Designers are Translators and it was a great excuse for us to work through some things that have been on our mind for a while.

Designers are asked to do all kinds of things these days, and those things often look (and are) very different.

Double headed arrow

Research, Making, and Facilitation are the three 'modes' of design that are easily agreed upon, but almost every designer you speak to will have a different take on what it is that designers actually do.

And that's the point!

Instead of focusing on What designers are, we should focus on What designers do. If we can't (or don't want to) lock down the fixed modes of design, then we need language for thinking about the similarities between us, and we think 'translation' is a useful concept for that.

Thinking of designers as translators is useful for a few reasons:

  • It helps us focus on the ways we move between design modes (it's about the arrows!).
  • It helps us think about the choices we make in those translations.
  • It helps us think about the ethics of our day to day work by making our power clearer.
Translation = agency = ethics

Translation is useful, as it helps us think about the ethical choices designers make in their day to day work.

We made the point that a focus on "translation" is a good way of thinking about the agency that we all have as designers, and the slides themselves have some good prompts for thinking through the types of choices designers make as they move between modes.