INside Track: Instinct is a four-letter word

Nothing raises the hairs on the back of a client’s neck faster than the mention of the word instinct – as in a designer’s response to the query, “How did you end up choosing blue for the background?”

Now blue may have been the perfect choice for a variety of reasons, and the designer’s selection may have been guided by an intuition with a subconscious rationale that’s impossible to articulate but, for lords sake, the said designer should never have used the word instinct (or intuition).


Instinct is one of those seemingly creative emotional right-brain attributes that logical process-driven rationale-addicted left-brainers discount and mistrust in spite of the fact that they may have read “A Whole New Mind”. Designers risk discrediting themselves, the profession and the design process every time they use the word to describe how they arrived at a design solution.

There’s another word that just as accurately describes what occurs in a designer’s grey matter when they have an “ah-ha” moment – intelligence or visual intelligence to be more precise.

When my daughter was diagnosed as being dyslexic, I discovered just how real and powerful non-verbal intelligences really are. Her teachers did an end around her impaired auditory and visual processing intelligences and worked with her kinesthetic intelligence to teach her math and reading – and it worked. There is this whole non-verbal region of her (and everyone’s) brain that can be challenged with a problem, define it and solve it.

The same is true of the visual intelligence that designers possess in abundance. It is no less valid or useful than the verbal intelligence left-brainers employ to address their tasks. Actually, visual intelligence has been found to be more effective in tackling complex abstract problems (witness the adoption of visualization techniques now being employed by many multidisciplinary strategic teams tasked with solving big challenges).

To really understand and be able to articulate the value and relevance of visual intelligence, I’d recommend reading the aforementioned, “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink and “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Instinct is one of those hot button words best left for conversations with other designers – but I’m sure you already intuited that.