Thursday, August 18, 2016

Design Thinkers and Myers-Briggs

The Prototypical INTP?
People are fascinated about what personality types famous designers have, from Steve Jobs (INTP or ENFP or ENTP) to Thomas Edison (ENTP) and Walt Disney (ENTP) to Nicolas Tesla (INTP). Michael Roller persuaded a bunch of graphic designers to take the Myers-Briggs personality test and a research project by Strategic Aesthetics also looked at the personality types of designers. The results were somewhat surprising, but before we reveal them, some background on the sometimes confusing vocabulary of Myers-Briggs is in order;

The Myers-Briggs scale categorizes respondents across paired traits. The introversion - extroversion scale is one. Others are perception - judgment and another is relationships based. Each of these scales has a "dichotomy." Myers-Briggs builds on the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung and is also similar to Ichak Adizes' model of Management Styles.

Perception goes from "sensing" to "intuition". Those terms may be a bit confusing, because "sensing" literally means relying on your four senses; seeing, hearing, feeling and touching right now. Intuitive people look for patterns and extrapolate into the future. The other traits have scales that go from the concrete to the abstract. On the judgement scale, one end is "thinking" – making decisions based on current “evidence” and “rationally” reaching conclusions. The other end of that scale is "feeling" or gut instinct, which is based on the midbrain pattern matching feelings related to past experiences. 

Design Thinkers are trained to integrate different points of view and translate across time and conceptual frameworks . Where should they end up on the M-B scale? In one study, designers were balanced between Introversion and Extroversion (52/48) and Feeling and Thinking (56/44) but showed preferences for Intuition over Sensing (85/15) and Judging over Perceiving (69/31).

Introversion and Intuition

In both cases "introversion" and “intuition", the ability to look for patterns and solve problems, are at the top of the list. The fact that the other two traits were different suggests that there's no cookie cutter pattern for turning out graphic designers.

Similarly, the "perceiving" designer can be more spontaneous as they work through a project. Their co-workers who may be more prone to "judging" are likely to have an organized, scheduled, world view.

The two most prevalent designerly personality types are INFP (Healer - 6%) and INTJ (Mastermind - 2%). Both have tolerance of chaos, or spontaneity, in the mix, depending on how their creativity is influenced by their place on the judgement scale. Another interesting component is the percentages of each type in the population. Only 8% are INFP’s. INTJs are are 16% of the total.

The envelope, please...

The research indicates that most graphic designers are close to INFPs (Healer/Mediator) or INTJ (Mastermind/Architect.) ENFPs (The Inspirer/Campaigner - 16%) and ENFJs (The Giver/Protagonist - 16%) came in second and third place in both of the main surveys. In either case, extroversion level was moderate, although for many designers, being able to comfortably communicate ideas is very important.

There's one trait that stands out in all the results; Intuition. The ability to solve problems in an abstract way seems key. It would be rare to find a designer without that as part of their make-up. At the same time, designers are less akin to the stereotypical touchy-feely artist and more like Systems Engineers who always keep the big picture in mind.

Under the best of circumstances, a designer is likely to be rare and unusual.The INFP type is only 6% of the population. What follows are a couple of charts and some detailed descriptions of the types and their prevalence. If you know your type, see where you fit in.

One interesting implication of this arrangement is that it illustrates the difference between an external and internal focus in designers. Design Thinking's emphasis on empathy implies being comfortable and conversant with emotions. At the same time it requires fluid, flexible thinking. Perhaps the larger message is that MB style flexibility would be a very powerful skill.

The four descriptions in the center squares form a core; Artistic, Idealistic, Generous and Optimistic. The outer ring traits of the center columns; Loyal, Contemplative, Persuasive and Harmonizing add a nice finish.

This posting is built on material from a variety of sources. I've recently re-tested and discovered that I've have shifted from INTJ to INFP. Both are a designerly type, although time and experience seems to have mellowed me some. ;-) Walt Disney has been ranked an ENFP or ENTP.

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