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Untapped Talent

posted on February 23rd, 2006 by jay

First a confession. Last night I watched Project Runway. Girlfriends often force you into doing things you wouldn’t normally do (like shower) and this was no exception. I don’t like fashion and it doesn’t like me so we stay 50 yards apart at all times. I could go on and on about the lush tapestries and…nevermind, I’ve already run out of words to describe fashion, but I do have a point in all of this. A designer was dismissed because he didn’t do a great job sewing the garment he designed.

Who cares if he can’t sew, if his designs are good then he will have a team or sewers, or better yet, a sweat shop. To penalize and dismiss him from the field for something as trivial as sewing ability is to only deprive the fashion world of his talent. Of course, my girlfriend didn’t agree. She argued that it was part of the job and something a designer needed to know how to do. The only conclusion I could draw was that ideas are easy so in order to keep anyone with an idea out of the fashion world, artificial barriers are erected.

Video game design may be very similar. People often say that ideas are a dime a dozen in the game industry, so what is it then that makes a good designer? Are the ones who have made it simply coders and artists who weathered the industry long enough to be promoted to designer, or do they actually have specific design talents?

It’s tempting to go with the first explanation. I know I have plenty of what I assume are excellent design ideas. Despite what my mother may say, I am sure I am not unique. So in a world full of excellent ideas there must be a way of choosing which few will be turned into something. The current way, whether it be the clothing or game industry, is to weed people out by requiring abilities that may not be necessary in order to design well.

The problem with this line of thinking is it devalues the really superb designers. If ideas are a dime a dozen, then even an idea by Will Wright is only worth 1.2 cents. Is this a fair value? Maybe, a million other people may have had his same idea but not been in a position to make them come to fruition. Or maybe not. It could be that the common belief ideas are a dime a dozen is misleading. Ideas may be cheap but good ideas could be very valuable. Anyone who’s spent five minutes speaking to a 15 year old aspiring game designer can tell you most ideas are bad or simply unoriginal.

It makes sense that design isn’t only about the initial big ideas but also about making everything work well together. Balancing all of the smaller ideas into something enjoyable is important and many who have that initial one great idea cannot do this. But even if we expand the definition of a designer to include this, I am still unsatisfied because we have not explained why a designer should have to have extra abilities like programming skill. A painter does not need to be able to make his brushes, and there are great musicians who cannot read music.

Perhaps it is all a matter of practicality. Maybe designer’s would admit there are many people with untapped potential, but besides making employees jump through hoops and prove they are perseverant, there is little other way of finding talent.

Einstein was bad at math. Had he been entirely dismissed because he wasn’t particularly adept at dealing with the tools of his trade where could we be today? Well, maybe Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be in better shape, but that’s beside the point.

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