Dragan Babic enables design.

Are you selling locks or security?

There's this choice that you need to make once you start providing services.

You need to decide whether you're executing something for someone, or solving a problem for someone. In the former you are often referred to as a “vendor”, and in the latter a “partner”.

To illustrate this point and provide some context, in the analogy from the title: a vendor is selling locks, and a partner is selling security.

Do you see the difference?

If we're talking about design, a vendor might be a UX/UI designer taking orders, and making sure the user experience is as good as it can be. A partner will challenge any decision they think might jeopardize the mission, they will meddle and fight, stay up researching and trying to come up with the right solution to a bigger problem. Most importantly they will venture outside of their core expertise, and comfort zone in order to contribute to the success of the project at hand.

I personally was always under a lot of pressure—from none other than myself, mostly—to be a problem solver, instead of a service provider. This is where I saw the value being delivered. This was the ultimate goal, and I'll be damned if I'm not going to be a part of it.

I won't lie, this mission made my professional path immensely difficult. As a young designer I wasn't exposed to enough real-world problems, and situations in which I might use my expertise and knowledge to solve actual problems. All people wanted me to do is stay in my lane, and execute on a small portion of the vision.

This was terribly frustrating, wanting to contribute so hard, but just being inadequate. There's scar tissue for all that, believe me.

A lot of wise-asses online will go on and on about how being a problem solver is the only way to be a designer, and it's bullshit. Don't listen to them. In fact, be wary of anything you read, and see, and hear on Reddit, YouTube, and podcasts. It's mostly trash perpetuated by people who are what I call meta-experts. They act like they know all about it, but they can't do it.

The thing is, there's nothing wrong with being “just a vendor” and participating in someone's success by just doing a small part of the work, however insignificant it might seem, because this is probably right for you at the time. Later, if you want, when you know enough, when you're experienced enough, you might want to get into the deep end.

What my experience has taught me that you don't always need to aim for the biggest prize, and not every situation needs a hero.

Do whatever you feel is right for you at the time.

Regarding the meta-experts, my dear friend Mika taught me how the great Mihailo Pupin described people who appeared to know things, but they actually don't, it's that they: “their knowledge is on a level of being informed” (znanje na nivou obaveštenja). 


What's this?

Dragan Babic is a design consultant enabling creatively challenged organizations to nurture design, and work with design professionals in productive ways.

You are reading his blog.