What is Better? Problem Solver or Designer?

Are you kidding me?

That was my first thought when I saw a marketing email in my inbox a few days ago: HOW TO INCREASE SEO FOR YOUR BUSINESS DURING THE COVID 19. I couldn’t believe it. It just seemed a wrong message at the wrong time.

Photo by Keenan Constance on Pexels.com

Since the pandemic started in mid-March, there have been many COVID 19 related marketing email messages and webinar presentations I received. They have to do with how to messages on getting through the difficulties-how to survive, how to think and prepare, what the new work setting is going to be, how we are not going to have any more vacations, etc.

With different headings and writing styles, the main messages are the same. With this unprecedented time, everything about our lives is going to change. Therefore we must prepare, get ready, start fresh…in other words, we have to be somebody else.

Seeing how to email headlines about the SEO made me stop and did the unthinkable – click the email! While rolling my eyes to the subject line, I was also curious…as a business owner, learning to increase google’s search engine and how it can help to promote the business is a topic I could not ignore pandemic or not.

My attitude adjustment

Or maybe I was wrong…at least my attitude towards it. Perhaps, these marketing companies understand their customers (aka me) well which I cannot say we designers are not known for.


After 10 years of running my architecture business, I know the NUMBER ONE reason architects get hired. Those reasons have do with solving their problems ALWAYS…the reasons can vary but they always have to do with some problems/issues/challenges the clients want to resolve. They can be single-house owners who want to change everything about their house or developers wanting to change ( or eliminate) the certain zoning restrictions…the first contact was always about starting with SOLVING PROBLEMS they have

I have never had clients who came to our office for unlimited budget with flexible approach to design ideas.

Of course, along the way, I talk to clients about their big visions, ideas, and possibly introducing new ways of thinking and seeing the projects (what we designers are good at); however, these things are discussed only AFTER coming up with the solutions to their initial issues.

It is true that in so-called normal times (aka before the COVID 19), I was just focused on doing things….without reflecting how/why part of doing the work. Just trying to cross off items from day’s growing todo list.

Using this unexpected “downtime” for future business planning could be a good use of our time, as many marking emails indicate.

Although the SEO email subject line could use the finesse in coming up with more appropriate words, I had to admit that they got me at the SEO talk.

This led me to think about what we designers can do right now to prepare for the uncertainties in the future. 

The word, Problem Solver sounds much more relevant than the name, Designer at this particular time in history. I read an old article from the AIA magazine on this specific topic: designer vs problem solver before any of us knew the letters and numbers – COVID 19. 

Everything is on hold

The article, how to survive a downturn was about how architecture firms can prepare for a difficult economic time and what the architecture firms can implement to prepare better for future challenges. 

The writer spoke to the architect Carol Wedge, FAIA, and she states:

When times get tough, remember that you’re really valuable as a problem solver and always stay in conversation with your clients about their needs


Although the article was written pre-COVID 19, I find it to be compelling advice that can be applied in any difficult economic situations. As all of us are experiencing huge “rainy day” (more like a monsoon season) challenge, we can take comfort in knowing that the time will pass….until another problem appears 🙂 Ok…I couldn’t help but add the joke at the end.


There are several things on hold for my architecture firm at the moment– waiting on the RFP (Request for Proposals) submission we made back at the beginning of April, projects on hold, and some potential projects that might not happen at all…

It is a waiting game….or is it?

A month ago, one of my clients called and put the project on hold… In fact, it might not be a hold, but a possibility of scraping the project’s idea altogether.

Typically, these circumstances would put me in such a depressing/ blame everyone and everything mode. However, the recognition of everyone going through these difficulties/ uncertainties together somehow makes the situation seem better (?)

I’m also being reminded by everyone, including the infamous SEO marketing email, that this is an excellent time to review/strategize/get ready for the new normal to return…

Although it is annoying to be lectured on the big thinking and prominent visionary leadership lessons while facing many challenges, I confess there is wisdom in that tone deaf SEO message I initially rolled my eyes at.

Hiring in quarantine time

One of the big/ visionary business decisions I made at the beginning of this year was to hire a marketing assistant. Of course, the decision was kept delayed amid everyday “small” todo lists until mid-March when the pandemic hit.

I actually did the hiring during this quarantine time! At the beginning of April, I decided to hire a marketing assistant. I was not sure whether I would get any responses or even could do proper interviews without seeing the person.

With more “downtime” on my hand, I decided to conduct phone interviews rather than zoom video chat. (I did not want to change from my covid 19 uniform- gym clothes!) Even through phone conversations, I began to pick up on individual personalities….in fact, I realized I had to become better at communicating without the benefits of seeing each other.

Over the years, I have learned that the attitude is more important than skillsets for the job candidates…

With this hard-earned wisdom, I made an interesting observation during the phone interviews about the job candidates’ views and outlooks. I received many qualified candidates with their resumes and portfolios, which illustrate what their skill sets were. However, the skill sets do not indicate how they approach the work they would do at a job setting.

Years ago, I learned a hard lesson from hiring an assistant who had a stellar resume/portfolio but did not produce the same level of work at my office.

To this day, it is not clear to me whether the person lying on the resume or the person did not work at the same level because it was not their own work. Either way, It was a difficult lesson.

There are some things you cannot be completely prepared for…no matter how much time you spend on. You can only learn things through experience.

Hiring is one of those experiences one has to go through. Even with the best interview preparation, we can never predict how the hiring outcomes would be. I am learning to become a problem solver ( or predictor) when it comes to many of the hiring problems.

Final Thoughts

The word, “problem solver”, does not have the same prestige one associates with the title, “designer” The inherent meaning of the phrase implies that there are solutions to every problem…we just need to find them.

However, I learned over the years (especially running a business) that it is not “finding” the solutions, rather “improving” each steps of getting to those solutions. Everyone’s experience would be different along those steps.

Instead, it is learning to recognize different ways/approaches that can lead you to those solutions. It is not a DESTINATION but rather a PROCESS.

Through this remarkable time in history, I realize that solution lies within the process…rather than getting to the destination. (as my method of hiring indicates) Just starting something without knowing all the answers could lead you to the “solution”…I just have to be open to those experience.

I am beginning to think that the words, problem solver and designer have the same meanings; they both are about improving our situations, challenges, and difficulties we face.

What have been your discoveries about yourself at this difficulty times? Would love to hear from design communities.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in Life Outside of Design Studio and has been updated for accuracy and completeness.

1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Landon Harrisonreply
November 2, 2022 at 2:33 pm

Great reading your blog poost

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