Anatomy of a Designer’s Brain

by in Articles on 18th Nov 2011 · Comments

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. For a designer, it would seem that not a single brain cell goes to waste. Like a scrapbooker, the mind of a designer is constantly storing little pieces of information for future use. A person may wonder if they have the makings of a "designer mind".

There are many determining factors. First, what is a designer? Dictionary.com defines a designer as "a person who devises and executes designs, as for works of art, clothes, machines, etc." This in itself doesn't come close to getting into the heart of the designing brain and its innermost workings, to say the least.

Designer's Brain
Image credit: prkn


One mind might come up with designs for clothing patterns for children, while another might design buildings and structures. Is the mind of an architect that different from the mind of a clothing designer? Is it that different from the brain of one who has no interest in design?

There are many forms of designers. For instance, works of art, perhaps in the form of paint or sculpture. There are interior designers, graphic designers, and game designers. Pretty much anything in physical form is designed by an artisan skilled in that particular trade.

Software, curtains, the plates used for nightly supper... these are all designed by a brain capable of making an idea into something tangible. Certainly, it is a trait to be admired. But the question remains; does the average human have the ability and just no interest - or is it hard-wired beyond their control? This article is designed (pun intended) to address some of these questions.

Left vs. Right - Who's Driving this Brain?

In examining the workings of the brain of a designing artisan, the question of left and right brain dominance comes into play. There is a common phrase about left-handed people being in their right minds. This is due to the fact that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and many other aspects. What is the effect on artistic ability?

Left vs. Right Brain

The right side has particular functions such as design copy and shape recognition (such as finding a hidden object in a picture). Does a designer think differently or perhaps have different cognitive abilities, which lean toward creating things of beauty or structure in life?

Human beings utilize both hemispheres of the brain and of course they are not completely separate entities. They do work in conjunction with one another to create each and every individual's functioning brain. However, there is a dominant side in each person and it does dictate, in large part, personality traits and characteristics common to that side.

The fellow down the street is a great accountant, so which side dominates his brain? The right side is visual oriented, as discussed earlier. A right dominated brain sees the big picture, then pares down the information into more finite detail.

The left side is detail oriented, seeing the smallest articles and pieces of the puzzle first, then assembling them into a bigger picture. It stands to reason that the aforementioned accountant is most likely left-brain dominant.

Does the Designer's Brain Think Differently?

The simple answer to this question is a resounding yes! In determining that the designer's brain is right side dominated, it becomes clear that right side attributes drive the creative ability and function. The left-brain drives organizational skills and logical skills. These are not primary traits of a designing mind.

Think Different
Image credit: doktr sigr

A designer is more emotional and is better in tune with their own feelings and therefore is able to express those feelings in a greater capacity than a left-brain driven individual. Unfortunately, organization and time management and the like are not qualities a designer normally possesses.

A designer with a messy house reading this article may be relieved to know this bit of information! Right-brained people do have a creative edge, but that does not mean a left-brain thinker can't create. They just get to the end result in a very different way.

Design and Art - What Does It Really Mean to the Designer?

A designer doesn't just design for folly. It is not construed as just a job or a way to earn a living. As mentioned earlier, a designer feels his or her work in their very bones. It isn't just an idea. It's inspiration! How, where, and why each artist gets this inspiration is not a mystery.

Design and Art

It is a result of the visual right brain function. Instead of just looking at a tree and thinking, "That's a pretty tree!", a designer's mind would look at that same tree and think "That's a pretty tree! I love the shape of the leaves and the way the bark lines the trunk. I could make that into a really neat bench." See the difference?

Another example, clouds. One might look at the sky and think, "It's cloudy today" while a designer sees not only that it may rain, but takes into account the beauty of the placement of the clouds today or the shape they make in the sky as a whole. A different thought races through the designer's mind. "It looks like popcorn today".

This then turns into a thought about using popcorn in the next illustration they draw or how they might use popcorn in their next food based advertising campaign drawings. Simply put, the designing mind uses all things as inspiration, not just in nature, but also on a much larger scale. Inspiration leads to concrete ideas.

Concrete ideas lead to their identity as a worker in a skilled profession, notoriety even, in that given profession, and that lends the designer a sense of pride and accomplishment. What the designer sees in everyday life embodies his or her skill, actions, and choices.

The preceding nature scenarios play out in everyday activities such as going to the movies, family gatherings, taking a drive, going to a museum. Doing such normally mundane things can lead to the inspiration for an entire project, such as how to decorate a property.

Ideology and Philosophy of a Designer's Brain

There are many words that would describe a designer or an artist. Among these are aloof, liberal, creative, unrestrained, emotional. But how much of this in inherent and how much of it is formed by the way one is raised, the education obtained in the field, and other outside factors? Much of it can be formed in this way!

Ideology and Philosophy

If a person's parents carve wood sculptures for their livelihood and own a shop where the wares are sold, it stands to reason that their children will be trained up in this way and may carry on the family business. If a person shows aptitude in a certain area, such as painting very nice landscapes when they are in second grade and the family has enough financial resources and fortitude to grow this ability to the highest potential, they may seek out art classes or send the child to a special school for such skills.

If a young person is a virtuoso and lives near an educational institution which specializes in their craft, it is more likely they will be trained there. All of these scenarios lean a designer toward a certain style, firm, or way of being simply because of how they are exposed to being taught in this way.

Additionally, the right and left-brain functions play a complex part in the type of design each individual chooses. A right-brain person will design much less structured work, such as an abstract. The work is likely to be freeform, having lines without boundaries and structure built in and the piece is likely to have more meaning and emotion tied into the design.

The left-brain designer is orderly in the approach to the work, with definite lines and formations included into the piece. The piece is more likely to be reality based, drawing realistic animals or incorporating concrete forms like a boat or particular familiar shape.

Are You a Left-Brain or Right-Brain Creative?

Can a person test these skills and abilities and determine the psychological implications? Certainly! Take the quiz to determine which side of your brain is dominant. It probes easy-answer questions such as how you remember a person most easily - by name or by face?

One is a right brain function and one is a left-brain function. Fancy a creativity test instead? Try this test to find your strengths and understand your designing tendencies in a brighter light.

In summary, the question of whether or not the anatomy of a designer brain (either male or female) is different than that of a "normal" person, the answer is yes. And no. And a crazy misunderstood mixture of both. It depends on where your idea or understanding of what "normal" really is and how you relate to that reality.

Each of us sees the world differently... and what we do with that view is very much what makes this world so interesting!

Aidan Huang is a web enthusiast and ingenious blogger who loves all things design, interesting and technology. He is the editor-in-chief at Onextrapixel and have founded several other interesting blogs. Do keep in touch with him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.