Conceptual vs systematic designers

James talks conceptual vs systematic designer types, and why it's important to understand their differences as a design leader.

Illustration of a a white grid on a black background. On the left hand side it's crinkled into 3D folds and shapes and on the right hand side it's flat and 2D

Over the years I have worked with and have hired a variety of designers from a broad range of academic and self-taught backgrounds.

There’s one common trend I have encountered:

Designers often defer to the design mode that they are most comfortable working in as the place to start designing.

These modes tend to be either conceptual or systematic. Both are equally as important however, without recognising the mode needed to solve the problem particular to any given project or part of that project a designer can waste a lot of time concentrating on the wrong approach to a problem. The two typical modes of designers are often either:

1. Conceptual designers

These designers love exploring the creative space, with minimal constraints. They get to ‘push’ the brand and are afforded the luxury of saying, “This is just a concept to establish direction”.

My favourite conceptual designers are those who:

2. Systematic designers

A systematic designer will spend days setting up the base-line grid and they will get excited when showing their scalable design symbols in Sketch.

My favourite systematic designers are those who:

In order to determine how you operate as a designer it’s important to recognise what mode you need to deploy to achieve the right focus.

The elephant in the room

Being aware of the differing modes needed to design across a project, product or service lifecycle is important, and many designers are able to do this. However, some are not and that’s ok.

It’s important when designing that you recognise where you are in the design process, this will help you to ensure that you are either using the right skillset, or individual, to make sure you’ve got the right mindset at the right time. 

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