Design is Parenting

When my son was born, I was obsessed with the temperature of his bath water. What if it was too hot? Too cold? Which was worse? We bought this plastic bathtub that had a built-in color-changing thermometer. We were given a color-changing rubber ducky at the shower. The baby books said between this degree and that degree, Celsius or Fahrenheit. No shortage of advice existed on the web.

Practice grew me adept at drawing X amount of hot water and Y amount of cold, and how to cancel mistakes or maintain temperature by adding Z amount of warm. And always, if in doubt, I had my arsenal of thermometers. It took me months to gradually realize that if it was comfortable for me, it was comfortable for baby. There is no formula. Find comfortable. Trust.

At An Event Apart - Seattle, there was a lot of discussion as to what design is, and what role we all play as designers. Some definitions included:

Design is the rendering of intent.

Design is moving things around until they look right.

Design is a job

I think all of these are correct, however, I’d like to add my own:

Design Is Parenting

In both design and parenting, there is an implicit desire to create, to shape, to guide and eventually let go. I am not implying that my son is my client, by no means do I consider it that sort of relationship! But really, you can distill a lot of interactions down to whether or not you give a damn to see how it turns out. What matters most? To me, parenting is caring enough not to give up on tough problems, constantly course-correcting. It’s about trusting your gut, not what others say (though advice and basics never hurt). You must tailor your approach to each changing day.

And when you see the product of all your hard work first take steps, or fall and get back up, you breathe a sigh of relief that everything might be okay. No one was born a good parent, or a good designer. No such definitive guide could ever describe the perfect process, the playbook of teachable moments, or the motivation to continue on day after day, never really being done.


We try to set a good example. When we are gone, we hope the world will be a better place for our efforts.

Originally posted 12/07/13 - Brian Muenzenmeyer - Follow me on Twitter