Is Design a Learnable Skill

 A table and chair I designed with no formal training. 

A table and chair I designed with no formal training. 

I was just reading over the latest Fine Woodworking Magazine and came across an article titled Is Design a Learnable Skill? The author wrote of her experience and there are four accomplished furniture makers who answered the question as well for some additional perspective. The question posed to the designers in the article is can the fundamentals of good design be taught. Since I wasn’t asked… I’m joking of course. The people that were asked are a combination of teachers and much longer working furniture makers then myself. But in reading the responses I found something missing. The answer seemed to be yes, but talent is a factor and that can’t be taught.

Is good design a learnable skill? My understanding of design is that it is working with a visual language and combining that with a technical medium. My background is in photography. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography. Before I went to school, anything I knew of the visual language was by chance. None of my previous formal education was in the visual language I learned in college. Through learning to look at photographs I was able to understand my response to images. I also learned to create relationships and visually interesting elements within a frame. Once I learned the visual language that I used in photography I was able to use that language in building and designing boats. My first career in woodworking prior to furniture. What I was taught to see and create in photographs was useful as the design training for both boats and furniture. Using that language, I could recognize when something didn’t look right on a boat and create something that would look like something that would be pleasing. I knew many boat builders and now many wood workers that were never taught the visual language and therefore cannot design and have a lot of trouble making decisions about what will look good in a piece. Can they be taught good design? Yes, they can be taught to understand and use the visual language that will give their pieces good proportion, good weight and clean lines. Good of course is a tough word because it deals in degrees. So good design can be taught but can great design be taught?