Math = design. Jk! Unless… 😳

// warning: written chaotically on a whim. Maybe I'll turn this into an illustration series because words are not working as well as I'd like.

I feel like more math majors should become designers. I know, it’s kinda weird because they seem totally unrelated as disciplines – but they’re not wholly unrelated. For example, problem-solving is central to design despite how notoriously difficult it is to teach.

Enter math. Math is like, problem-solving in its purest form. Just shots of pure problem after problem, straight to the dome for years.

If you study math, it’s true that you’d miss out on some of the foundational design skills – like typography and Gestalt principles. But why not learn those on the job? This is just the inverseA math term lol of how fresh designers come in with foundational design skills, but have to learn problem-solving on the job. Having one of each employee would be a perfect complementAnother math term lol for your team.That’s just a hunch though — in reality I know nothing about building my own team.

So, if you’re a math major and you feel like you’re kinda drawn to things looking nice and working well, consider design. Or if you’re a designer who’s kind of interested in math or logic, then try it out!

You start with assumptions and constraints

In order to be successful in both practices, you must know what your assumptions are and lay them out before you begin. Not having a clear understanding of the tools you’re starting with can get you into a pickle.

Math also helps you get used to the idea that there are always assumptions. For a problem to exist, there needs to be enough pieces of contextual information that tell you that something is a problem at all. Get used to looking for the assumptions.

Simple problems get messy quick

Math tends to get really messy in the middle, but eventually simplifies again. Having resilience to deal with increasing complexity is a core skill to have as a designer, because oftentimes simple problems can be quite complex.

Part of building that resiliency is having faith that it will simplify itself again. It’s really satisfying to see the problem go from a few characters, to 10x characters, back down to a few characters again. Helps you get comfortable with convergent and divergent thinking.

Unpacking definitions gets you far

One of the beginning strategies to completing a math proof is that you can start to define everything in your given assumptions. This is also good practice in design, and ultimately comes down to alignment. Do all your stakeholders agree on how we’re defining “success”? Does your team have a shared understanding of the problem?

Clear communication is paramount

For every piece of math homework, I’d have a giant chicken scratch notebook where I actually did the dirty work in my thinking. When I’m turning it into the professor, though, I rewrote it into perfect sentences according to the “genre” of mathematical proofs. Know your audience — you can pass your chicken scratch to

Design is all subjective. Well math isn’t “objective” either

Ok listen. All of math boils down to logic and true/false binary, so how can math possibly not be “objective”? 2+2 is always 4. BUT, 2+2=4 also pre-supposes axioms that happen to work out pretty consistently in our world, but that doesn’t have to be true (and they actually aren’t, depending on what scale you’re looking at and how many dimensions you’re dealing with). If you change of the basic axioms of mathematics, you end up with totally different outcomes, like non-Euclidean geometry, where parallel lines heckin intersect. Woah.