In this post, we’ll take a peek into the mind of Red Orange Studio founder and CEO, Susie Fife, as she illustrates her perspective on the intersection between logic and creativity and how this has shaped her team.



I’ve been using this term a lot lately: “design intellect.” To me, it describes where intellect and creativity intersect. There’s a similar phrase, “design thinking,” buzzing around the industry right now too, and I love how the community is beginning to see how thinking and intellect play such a large part in not only being creative, but also using that creativity to solve problems.


The word “intellect” refers to the ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or real, and about how to solve problems.


With that in mind, here’s my definition of design intellect:



[eltd_blockquote text=”design intellect: the ability of the creative mind to communicate and develop visual solutions that solve problems.” title_tag=”h2″ width=”100″]


Design Intellect Header Image


The following are traits that I look for when curating my design team, and are what I see as the 4 essential traits of design intellect.


The 4 Traits of Design Intellect

1. The ability to see the difference in past and present trends

I look at dozens upon dozens of designer portfolios each year. I continue to be surprised when I see designers who have been in the field for a long time and are still using Photoshop solely, creating graphics with drop shadows and gradients galore, type-facing with Century Gothic and stretching text boxes all the way from the left side of a page to the right, utilizing no columns and little margin. Ok, so these may be my biggest pet peeves, and I’m certain there are “old-school” design approaches that I still use, but at some point designers have to let go of old ways and embrace new creative tactics.


That doesn’t mean we have to be ultra-trendy, but we do need to be able to see the difference between past and present design solutions. What appealed to our audiences even 2 years ago, no longer appeals to them now. We have to stay relatable and current. This trait also supports that fact that great designers are always curious (one of our core values at Red Orange). If you’re curious, you will always explore new ways of communicating and problem solving.


2. The ability to execute ideas

Creative people always have a bunch of creative ideas circling in their mind. There is no surprise there. But a creative who intersects their intellect with their ideas is better able to execute their ideas. They put their experience, education and fact-finding ability to good use by knowing what resources, tools and approaches to get the job done. If they are not an illustrator, they will pull someone in or work to manipulate pre-existing materials. If a stock photo is not solving the problem, they will work with a different medium or grab a great photographer friend to help. Either way, a great designer should always work on the tactical skills and knowledge of software to get the job done.


3. The ability to communicate thoughts and ideas

There’s no use in having a great idea if you can’t communicate it. An intellectual designer knows how to use words (whether verbal or written) to express their ideas in a way that a client or a team member can understand. They use stories, analogies or metaphors while brainstorming. They are clear and concise when presenting a concept. And they ask the right questions to gather the information they need to do their job well.


4. The ability to solve problems with design

Well-executed ideas that look visually appealing are not really successful if they don’t achieve the client’s goal and solve the consumer’s problem. At least in our industry. Art is a part of what we do, but art, in and of itself, is not always design. Art is an expression and doesn’t necessary need to solve a problem. Design, however, utilizes art to visually and creatively solve a problem. It’s the reason I’m in business. It’s the reason we as creatives can make a living. People will pay you to solve a problem for their business with your unique skill – whether it’s designing, programming, copywriting, video editing, photographing, or art directing. That’s why it’s so important for us to highly consider and develop the “smartness” behind our work.


My husband is a professor, so he is known as an “academic” or an “intellectual.” One of the many things I love about him is that he’s always spoken of me as an “intellectual” as well. He’s never seen me as less smart because I’m an artist or designer. He realizes that creative intellect is a type of genius that is set apart. As creatives, let’s continue to embrace this and push ourselves to be better, smarter, more curious and more knowledgeable about the industry, our clients and their industries, and about our culture as a whole. That’s when we can really make a difference and influence others to do the same.