Right Brained or Left Brained – The Designer’s Identity Crisis


You’ve likely heard the theory that someone is either left- or right-brain dominant, referring to the two hemispheres of someone’s brain. Right, being the more artsy, musically inclined type and left, being the problem solver and analytical thinker.

While studies (including this one from the University of Utah) have debunked this theory, we still tend to suggest that one side is more dominant than the other. Yes, certain functions occur in certain portions of the brain. But why do we still use this term? Probably because it’s a simple way for us to refer to personality traits of an individual. With that in mind, what then is the designer’s identity crisis?

On the outside of most designers, including myself, you may see that they’re artistically inclined, have great big picture thinking and can bring fresh creative ideas to almost anything they touch. This may be a half-truth, half-theory way of thinking. And while most designers might consider themselves strongly right-brain dominant, I’m not sure that’s always the case. In fact, I know it’s not always the case because I would desperately love to have some hidden right-brained attributes, like sketching, illustration, or animation. That’s simply not me. Yet here I am, a designer.

Hidden amongst the many creatives of this world are the unique left leaning designers who enjoy the problem solving, puzzling, and mathematical aspects of design. It’s me. I love to get into the trenches of figuring out how to fit a massive amount of content into a small design area for print or helping to visualize and create an event space with the best flow of signage. The idea of CSS that would have most right-brained designers cringing at the thought of having to go into the code? Yea; I’m a fan.

Often, I feel like an imposter in the creative industry, bringing great big ideas but not having the right-brained creative talent to execute it. After working with many different types of creatives and holding a few different professional positions, I’ve found myself here at Boelter + Lincoln as a production artist. It’s turned out to be the perfect balance for right- and left-brained design.  As a production artist I’m responsible for compiling estimates for print pieces and building out concepts to spec. I’ve become the go-to person for print and branding questions, working across teams to create better workflow, and filling in wherever the creative team finds needs. I get to flex both sides of my brain daily, brainstorming ideas and streamlining processes across the agency.

Left brainers will notice things like fonts and trends, constantly taking in design and determining if it works or doesn’t work and why. This comes very naturally and with little effort on our part to think through. We are taking in all the information and file it away so when we need it, we can recall it, mix it up, and put out something useful.

Right brainers on the other hand require little information to create something unique with what is available to them. They have a natural ability to be able to shut out the world and crank out some amazing completely new ideas.

So, which is better? Right or left brained? Honestly, the industry needs both. Some clients are looking for the next groundbreaking ideas, while other clients just want a designer who can make a lot of information look great. The question isn’t what’s better – it’s who are you?

To be successful as a designer, determine what you are and what your workflow looks like. Truly great design can only happen when these two “sides” collide. Creativity can get chaotic, problem solving can be boring – they need each other to be successful.