Say Hello to Your Design Demons

Based upon more than a decade in graphic design education I have a working theory called “Design demons” to explain the psychology behind the design process. In a previous post I looked at how design schools grades matched particular designers. Design demons more specifically looks at how the personality of the designer relates to the design process and therefore acts as a basis for giving individualised advice for designers to develop themselves.

There are three primary demons in the designer’s mind that each battle for attention. These are the Creative, the Critic and the Pragmatist. The label demon was chosen because these are powerful forces that can both help and overwhelm. Each demon has a different level of loudness, ability and affinity for a stage of the design process.

The Creative demon is the divergent thinker. Full of enthusiasm, curiosity and ideas this demon always has a positive attitude: “Wouldn’t it be cool if .... “ The Creative demon is the wellspring of new ideas. The Creative demon is at their best during the early “Concepting” stages of the design process though the Creative demon can have a role to play in later stages for problem solving. However, if the Creative demon is always coming up with new ideas then the project will neither be polished nor finished on time.

The Critic demon evaluates ideas and judges them. A strong Critic demon enables the designer to choose their best concepts and refine them further. The Critic demon decides when an idea is good enough to pursue further. Therefore the Critic demon relates to the Development and Refinement stages of the design process. An overly negative Critic demon will trap a designer into constantly going back to the drawing board. A poorly developed critic is unable to make decisions.

The Pragmatist demon is the taskmaster. This demon watches the clock, the budget, the ability of the designer and other available resources. The demon tells the Critic demon to stop being so picky and to move on because the deadline is looming. A weak Pragmatist demon will miss milestones. An overly safe Pragmatist demon will only allow easy to produce, safe ideas to progress. The Pragmatist is most useful in the feasibility and production stages of the design process.

Developing ability in each demon is part of a good design education. For beginning designers they will learn to listen to each demon in turn as they progress through the design process. More experienced designers can allow all the demons to speak at once.

Example of Design Demons 1: Often highly creative people struggle in graphic design programs because their Critic demon is too weak to rank concepts and the Pragmatist demon is not strong enough to keep an eye on the clock. Right up to the last minute their loud Creative demon will be feeding them with crazy off-the-wall and impractical ideas. These people can become successful designers by reigning in the Creative demon and allowing the other demons room to develop.

Example of Design Demons 2: Sometimes a designer can get stuck in a loop where the Creative demon cannot come up with anything to satisfy the Critic demon. This is either a sign that the Critic demon is too loud and the Pragmatist demon needs to make the Critic demon choose something that is “good enough”. Or, it could be a sign that the designer needs additional help in developing ability in the Creative demon.

My hope is that thinking in terms of Design Demons helps educating designers and gives a framework for designers to self-evaluate their strengths.