While at one of my first Emerge Luncheons (which I love and would highly recommend) I sat with a lot of people I had never met. There was a particularly popular speaker, and the place was packed. As with any professional small talk we asked each what the other did for a living. I was talking to a young lady from Procter and Gamble (an excellent company & corporate citizen). I asked what she did, and she replied, "I'm a chemical engineer at P&G. What do you do?" I told her that I was a graphic designer to which she said, "I was thinking about being a graphic designer." I found that ironic because, as I commented, "I considered being a chemical engineer for a while."
She looked at me like I had just insulted her mother. She didn't say anything to me the rest of the meeting, but shot me glares that screamed, "A simply artsy person like you could never do what I do." Perhaps there are engineers and designers alike who will be insulted by this statement, but I'm a pretty dicey that way. Designers and engineers are more alike than you may think.
What Engineers Do
I have several friends and family members who are engineers. They work for major companies doing serious work. I can speak from experience there is nothing more entertaining than watching one of them get pinned down and asked what they do. I love it! They hem and haw, squirm and stall, make jokes and change the subject. For a while I thought that they really didn't do anything (which is obviously pretty foolish). I've tried doing nothing, and it quite frankly doesn't pay that well.
Here's the thing about engineers. (We'll look at mechanical engineers.) A mechanical engineer is someone who has taken apart and put back together so many machines that they can look at a contraption of any kind and deduce how it was built. They know how it works. Furthermore, they can look at a situation and develop a machine that accomplishes the needed task. How/why? Because they have such a thorough understanding and experience in mechanics.
The same basic principle is true with a chemical or civil engineer.
What Designers Do
I love and respect my dad like no one else I know, but he has no clue what I do. I wouldn't be surprised if I do a poor job explaining what I do, but it's not easy (I'll talk about that in a little bit). There are plenty of people who think I play on a computer all day and draw pictures. They think this profession is cute. Well, hold on to your hats because I think my title could easily be Graphic Engineer. Presumptuous? Probably, but hear me out.
Here's the thing about designers. We have debugged and broken apart so many websites, advertisements and logos that we can look at these things and figure out how they work. We know what works, what doesn't and why. We can postulate on whom it will reach and who won't get it. Better still, we can look at a situation and build the website, advertisement or logo that will meet the given needs. How/why? Because we have a working knowledge of design.
Why We Never Tell What We Do
So, if it's all so simple why don't designers and engineers just tell people what the heck they do? Because it sounds simple, and most people don't know the difference between simple and easy. "Love God and love others" is a simple command, but it's not an easy one. The work we do is simple, but it's not easy. Not just anyone can do it. It takes a certain skill set; it takes hard work. To be successful, it takes some completely unmerited favor. Engineers and designers alike take pride in our work. What we do is constantly ask ourselves the question (not does it work, but) how does it work. And, we WILL answer it.