Learning about design from a designer in Portugal.

Some people aren’t just good at designing, they’re good at communicating. And not just good at using design to communicate. They’re good at explaining what the practice of design is.

I don’t think it’s about having the ability to draw and to write. It’s being able to think and articulate why you are doing what you do. I’m sure it makes you a better designer. And I’m absolutely sure it’s the perfect set of skills to teach others to design.


Greg and I met Andrew Howard in Porto. Andrew is a graphic designer, curator, teacher and design writer that has been living and working in Portugal since 1993. He’s the principal of Studio Andrew Howard, a design firm based in one of the prettiest streets in Porto, with large windows overlooking a tree-lined street.

When Andrew moved his family (his wife is Portuguese) and his studio from London to Porto he made a conscious decision to get involved in wider community — actively network — to ensure he wasn’t isolated.

When establishing Studio Andrew Howard, he was strategic in building a portfolio of clients drawn exclusively from the cultural and educational sector. His portfolio is full of beautiful, thoughtful work.

When he’s not designing for others, Andrew is heavily involved in the Escola Superior de Artes e Design.(ESAD). ESAD was founded in 1999 and is now one of Portugal’s main independent design schools.

He started lecturing for the Visual Communication course before designing and coordinating the Masters degree. In 2012 Andrew founded, and still organises, the Porto Design Summer School, a two-week summer school specialising in editorial design. He tutors alongside Hamish Muir and Jessica Helfand and guest designers have included Jonathan Barnbrook (UK), George Hardie (UK), Adrian Shaughnessy (UK), David Pearson (UK) and Catherine Griffiths (NZ).

If that’s not enough, Andrew also devised and coordinated the Personal Views project, an international seminar series which bought together over 50 prominent designers, writers and educators in the field of graphic design to explore the boundaries of contemporary communication design practice.


What I learnt from Andrew.

I learnt that by taking control of your situation, it is possible to successfully move your life and studio from one of the world’s busiest design hubs to a (relatively) small European city without losing relevance. It can be done by actively communicating. Both pushing out and pulling others in, to your life and your network.

I also learnt a phrase that explains design succinctly: Design is thinking made visible.

Pure gold.

So simple that it makes you wonder why you haven’t thought of it yourself.

Design is thinking made visible appears on the title page of a manifesto for study Andrew wrote for his MA students.

The manifesto is a small book of 12 thoughts. I wish I had them in my head earlier in my career, but then again, it’s never too late in my world of life-long learning.

I don’t want to reproduce the whole book here but sheesh, it’s hard to choose which  to share — they are all valuable. Here’s three favorites:

Point 1:

No amount of ingenuity or creativity can create strong, clear, memorable design solutions from thought which is confused. This is why design is first and foremost a means of organising ideas. Design is thinking made visible.

Chosen because this statement should be the foundation to every project, but it’s not. I do not know one designer that hasn’t been trapped trying to – as others have said so eloquently – polish a turd. At some stage in our career we’ve all been guilty of latching onto an ill-thought through solution early and then spending an inordinate amount of time trying to make our jumbled thoughts make sense. 

Point 2:

Opinion is welcomed but it is not enough. Your ideas must be substantiated through facts and testing, through research and evaluation. Build the confidence and the expertise to substitute ‘I think’ for ‘I know’.

I am in awe of such clarity. This is statement not only for designers but for clients. It takes the design from the subjective to the objective: a valuable basis for any presentation. 

Point 11:

The unique capacity of a designer is the ability to dismantle existing communication codes and to recombine some of their elements into structures which can be used to generate new narratives of the world. This tells us that method is at the heart of our practice and that design is not a piece of the puzzle, it is a way of putting the puzzle together.

I like this for two reasons.
Firstly, design is a process. It’s not about sitting and waiting for a lightbulb moment. It’s about research and strategy and methodically working through options.
Secondly, I love the idea that design is the glue that unites disparate thoughts. Not necessarily new thoughts. Can be old thinking, rethought.

Take home point

In a world where most are striving to attain a work:life balance, keeping a studio in a capital city, with all the overheads and constraints that delivers, is not the only option. It is possible to run a successful, dynamic studio from afar. It just involves a conscious, strategic decision to actively communicate with others.

Second take home point – design is thinking made visible. Simple as that.

Got a question? Want to share your point of view? Please feel free to email me.

Want more information like this?
Subscribe to get weekly Design Business Review articles, Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers.

Carol Mackay

Carol’s design expertise is in making the complex simple. Her skill is in packaging complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information to be easily understood and digested. 2018 is a big year for Carol. Thirty-three years after founding Mackay Branson design, she is moving from client-focused projects to use her skills with the Design Business Council, and The Design Business School.

Carol has just written a new program for the The Design Business School. The Design Studio Management Program is aimed at designers, design graduates and existing design studio managers to help them develop skills to fast track their career path. Contact Carol for more information.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.