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Stepping Out of the Design Bubble

A few weeks ago, I took off my headphones, stepped away from the safe glow of my iMac, and staffed a booth at a trade show for one of our clients, The Hardwood Furniture Guild. I definitely wasn’t a veteran of this particular industry. While this experience pushed me out of my comfort zone, I came away with a reminder of what my job as a designer really entails: helping clients achieve their goals.

Prior to the show, I wasn’t that familiar with furniture. But as I spoke with attendees and represented Cassel Bear over the course of two days, I learned the lingo, became familiar with what furniture buyers sought, and even made some business connections. It was a huge accomplishment not only for myself, but also on behalf of our client. And it reminded me of what being a designer is really about: communicating with empathy.

In a setting like a trade show, it’s sink or swim, so I had to adapt quickly. The Guild’s goals became my goals, and by the end of it I was talking to show attendees as if I sat on the Board. That transition from total outsider to industry professional is something I get to experience on nearly every project, and it’s absolutely my favorite part of being a designer.

Throughout my career, I’ve become a expert to varying degrees on dozens of topics, industries, businesses, and organizations, none of which I would have known existed were it not for my desire help my clients meet their goals. This diverse array of experiences not only aids me in my work, but also makes me feel like a more capable citizen of the world, able to think, speak, and act with knowledge and authority on a broad range of topics, from the multi-billion dollar global recycling industry to an Amish furniture maker.

My clients enrich my life. Each presents an opportunity for me to expand my worldview, to step into another life for a few hours a day, and to come away with a greater understanding and deep appreciation for another person’s livelihood.

And that’s the best part of design to me: on a day-to-day basis, I’m at a computer moving things around on screen. But from a broader perspective, I’m trying to sell a product, educate folks about their medical options, or guide someone to a restaurant. As these goals become deeply rooted in my process, I become personally invested in them. It doesn’t only benefit my work, but it benefits my clients’ work as well. That personal connection is an incredible thing, and it’s a privilege for all of us at Cassel Bear to get a glimpse into our clients’ worlds, be inspired by what inspires them, and to help them however we can.