Whenever we do design, it’s to meet one or more objectives. Perhaps the objective is to be aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps it’s to increase conversion on a landing page. Perhaps it’s to minimize the errors made by the operator of a satellite control system.

And when we do design, it’s usually in the context of one or more constraints. Perhaps the design has to be completed within a week. Perhaps it has to be completed within a particular budget. Perhaps it has to be delivered on a particular platform or device, or implementable with a certain technology.

Considered in this way, it’s better to characterize design by the extent to which it meets its objectives within its constraints — i.e. by how effective it is.

So the better question is whether effective design can come out of an unsolicited activity?

Each objective and each constraint can be thought of a dimension which constrains the space in which effective design solutions exist. Consider three planes in space. Their intersection can at best be a single point; almost always, they won’t intersect, and instead will bound some space in-between. That’s the reason perfect solution almost never exists, and why design is actually an engineering activity involving trade-offs.

It’s the job of the designer to identify the space in which an effective solution can exist, and then to create a solution within it. It’s his job to solve the puzzle. The more objectives and constraints involved, the smaller that space will become; the more complex the puzzle is to solve.

So let’s return to the question of whether an effective design can come out of an unsolicited activity? The answer is that it depends on the complexity of the puzzle to be solved. Without the knowledge of the objectives and constraints that the inside designer learns through a professional engagement, the less likely the outside designer is to even know what the puzzle is, much less be in a position to solve it. The outside designer is left only in a position to infer what the puzzle may be, and only for those aspects of the product to which they’re exposed.

Could unsolicited design result in an effective concert announcement poster? Probably. Could unsolicited design result in an effective satellite control system user interface. Far more unlikely.