Practicing without a License

I read significantly less Bruce Nussbaum than I used to. I think he’s has a lot of good thoughts, but he’s been more into provoking his audience than producing new ideas, (so I turn off). That said, he posted about something I think about a lot; can only designers practice design? (Not his exact question, but at the root of the thought.)

Working in a design consultancy, I hear this debate a lot. Whether it’s related to the overarching principle of design, or the many disciplines that make up the profession, I usually steer clear of this conversation. Not because I don’t have an opinion, but because it’s a battle of ideologies. (In that sort of conversation, most people are intent on proving a point rather than exchanging views.)

Nussbaum’s post reminded me of a great piece of advice I received from my friend Madison. He reminded me that usually it’s the people outside of a discipline, the ones who have no idea about the conventions and dogma, who are best positioned to arrive at new ideas. Which makes sense if you think about it, the outsiders have nothing to lose. If they try something and fail, the disciplined expected them to fail anyway. (And those inside any discipline run a higher risk of doing what they do for the approval of their colleagues instead of the spirit of progress.)

It’s a piece of advice I think about frequently. It’s challenging and at the same time liberating.


  1. Hey Colin

    Check out the latest Gladwell New Yorker piece – very similar conclusions about how outsiders are willing to that which is “socially horrifying” to the discipline, but ultimately capture value through that disruption. I love the business translation.

  2. Thanks Dave, great article.

    IF anyone else is interested, you can read it here:

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