Why We Should Be Teaching Kids the Language of Design Lauren Nelson | June 29th, 2016
Let’s face it: the U.S. has been behind the curve when it comes to the study of languages for… well, too long to calculate at this point. While their European and Asian counterparts learn multiple languages before heading off to higher education, the American students find delayed instruction in languages other than English until middle school at the earliest in some cases, with most high schools requiring a meager two years of foreign language study for a student to receive their diploma.
Despite concerted efforts to change that trend over the last couple of decades, there’s been only minimal progress. But as technology has transformed the world around us, there’s been an new push to have our kids learn different languages. These languages come without feminine and masculine nouns or accents that baffle the average high schooler. No, these languages are used by tech companies the world over who are all too eager to hire the best and brightest young and fluent minds they can find. I am speaking, of course, of the push for teaching our kids how to code.
Don’t get it twisted. There’s no denying that’s a good idea. Period. Point blank. No caveats. But as we grow to accept these languages as worthy of study, we should also be willing to a language more fluid than those defined by binary code, unfamiliar alphabets, and dead speech patterns. There’s another language we need to be teaching our students these days: the language of design.
It’s impossible to say that “x” is the most important element of building and growing a business, but if we were to try to rank all the ingredients in such a recipe, design would most certainly be towards the top of the list. A poorly designed website will turn off potential customers faster than you can blink an eye. A poorly designed social profile will undercut your brand’s credibility and kneecap your attempts to build an audience. Poorly designed emails will do little to improve your conversion rates while diminishing your engaged audience. Poorly designed landing pages are close to useless. Poorly designed product packaging will sit in the shadows on a shelf.
Poor design sells nothing and can cost you everything. It doesn’t matter how fantastic your product or service might be. It doesn’t matter how eloquently you speak or write about the quality of what you have to offer. If you cannot present it in a compelling manner, you’ve already lost the game.
We’re not saying that every high school graduate should be able to design a perfect logo or website or any other creative asset. The truth of the matter is that, even with technical proficiency in the tools of the trade, not every mind is cut out for the world of design. It takes more than knowledge of the most recent version of the Adobe creative suite to be a successful designer.
But anyone entering the workforce should have a basic understanding of the principles of design. Whether those students go on to be CEOs, CFOs, COOs, or CMOs; whether they’re customer service wizards, superstar sales people, or human resource managers; whether they’re administrative assistants, system analysts, or accountants — understanding the significance of design and the various ways in which it plays a role in a company is important to the health of any company. Why?
Business Is Changing… and So Are Your Needs.
For starters, it’s part of success in a modern era. More and more, business leaders are realizing that any and every employee has the potential to transform a company. It doesn’t matter where you start or what your role is; any team member is capable of coming up with the next idea that will take the business to the next level. If those employees are empowered with an understanding of design, their ability to contribute is magnified. It offers a different dynamic to their thought process. Conceptualization starts to extend beyond decimal points and bottom lines. They start to realize that an inherent part of progress is creativity, and begin to incorporate, at a minimum, a respect for that need in their approach to innovation.
And even in a world where those people aren’t thinking in terms of pixels and brand standards, let’s be real: when has it ever hurt to have a workforce that’s been trained to think creatively?
Your Budget Needs a Reality Check
A rudimentary understanding of design also means you’re more likely to have consensus when it comes to resource allocation. Far too often, the first thing to go when the going gets tough is the budget for creatives. The common perception is that creative work is the fat when it comes time to go lean. That probably shouldn’t surprise us. Even in our schools, the arts are the first to go when times get tough. We teach ’em young to devalue that spark of creativity.
But when the creative budget is sacrificed, every other function is compromised. Your sales team has fewer resources. Your operations team, which frequently relies upon effective communication to keep the ship upright, finds themselves hamstrung by a stale pantry. And the makeshift efforts of the untrained who try to pick up the torch in the vacuum left by short-sighted cuts? They can do a lot of harm to the long-term health of a brand and that bottom line you value so dearly.
Creatives Are Already Mad As Hell
But perhaps most importantly, ensuring the next generation understands at least the basics of design just might help those in charge make better decisions about design by teaching them to trust designers. One of the most frustrating things for design professionals is when a client’s engagement or critique amounts to a shrug and personal preference. That has to be at least somewhat understandable, right? Imagine how you might feel, as an experienced plumber, if someone took a look at your handiwork and said, “Eh, I’m just not feeling it.”
Don’t get us wrong: instinct and vision are indispensable in the business world, and decision makers should not feel beholden to designers. But if a seasoned designer is explaining your options along with the benefits and drawbacks of each potential choice, you’d do well to listen. They’ve spent a great deal of time honing their craft and learning from their experiences. They’re not talking because they enjoy the sound of their own voice.
And maybe, just maybe, in a world where design education is folded into our standard K-12 curriculum, that whole listening thing will become more common.
Let’s Get Our Act Together
Students today should be learning Spanish. And Mandarin. And German. And Russian. They should be studying HTML and CSS and PHP and SQL and Java and Python and C++ and beyond. But they should also be learning about design.
As we move in that direction, creative crowdsourcing sites like crowdSPRING offer you your best shot at getting the whole design thing right. Many minds, many concepts, many explanations of the opportunities presented, many opportunities to learn and grow and prosper as a company, and all on a budget that’s hard to turn down. It’s a winning proposition. Make it your secret weapon while the American education system catches up.
Given the country’s track record, it might take a while. But don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.