If you lack the eye for design, the strategy I would recommend to develop some sort of proficiency is to “harvest” materials and ideas (good fonts, well-proven rules about proportion, color palets etc). Treat it as a repo, throwing stuff out and putting new stuff in. Ask feedback from designers on your choices, and try art. Really, try art. The whole art vs design debate is for decadent old men, but just exercise your creativity in different ways.
I’m a designer at heart and studied design in school, although I love to build things.
There are kinds of design that require an “eye”… graphic design is the prime example. I’m not very good at these, because they don’t interest me much.
I am much more interested in what might be called “future” design¹… making interventions that will shape the direction of a certain future. Certainly graphic design at its best does this while being beautiful. But from my perspective, graphic design is only one tool of many in the toolchest of the Future Designer.
Writing code, talking to people, putting on performances, building physical spaces, creating plans for neighborhoods, making sales, attending city council meetings…. all of these are indispensible tools for the Future Designer, and these activities all mesh well with the “hacker” mindset. In a real sense, this form of design is about hacking the trajectory of a neighborhood, or a person, or a city, or some other niche.
And yes, many great artists absolutely qualify as future designers. Banksy surely does. And many graphic designers: see James Victore². And many technologists too: Mark Zuckerberg surely does. The Kickstarter team surely does.
I’m embarrassed that this list doesn’t contain any women or people of color. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to find examples that would be convincing to the audience of hacker/designers on Hacker News. Certainly Joycelyn Elders has the stature of all of those men. As does Audre Lorde. As does Pat Summit. As do the Dixie Chicks. As do many more.
In some sense there are no specific technical skill requirements for you to be a great designer (as in: good eye, programming skills, etc). You do, however, need to know what your technical skills are. If you don’t have a great eye, and the future you’re designing requires a beautifully and powerfully presented image, then you need to find a graphic designer who does. Recognizing that makes you a great designer.
Because in the end great design isn’t about the practice of any specific craft. It is about outcomes.
¹ with a nod to Eli Blevis: http://dspace.kaist.ac.kr/bitstream/10203/5536/1/DRS-WonderGround-BLS-SoftwareMaterial-V2.7.pdf