I recently posed a question to one of my design email lists: How does one learn design?

The answers I got back were less than satisfying. Most people responded with reading suggestions. I think they were answering a different question: How does one teach design?

Anyway, when I think about how I learned design, I can’t help but remember how hard it was for me. I think the difficulty had something to do with being stuck in the mindset of my profession at the time—I was a programmer at Intel.

While thinking of this, I kept coming back to the notion that perhaps this all comes back to language? I’m personally unsure if there’s any difference between one’s “way of thinking” and the language they use to describe their thoughts.

Certainly one of biggest hurdles, for me, was learning how to express the relationships and interactions between people and software. In fact, I recall having a discussion about the problem with a brilliantly eloquent friend of mine, Jon Littell. I was discouraged because I had all these things I wanted to say but I didn’t have the words to describe them. It was endlessly frustrating!

It seems that by writing this, I’m now clearer about the separation between my thoughts and my language because until I had thoughts about design, I didn’t have a need to describe or discuss them with anyone.

I wish I had a better answer than “change the way you think,” but it seems that’s how I learned design. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really help us make design more accessible to the great managers and business leaders of the world.

I really do believe that the way great designers filter life, creating their own experiences, is fundamentally different than the way great managers, for example, filter life.

I suppose if I knew the similarities between designers’ and managers’ filters, then I would have solved the one of the biggest problems for the design community: getting “business” to recognize the value of design.

Please tell me, how did you learn design?