The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

One Principle to Design By

– March 6th, 2007 –

I’ve just been pointed to a post by Andy , called Five Principles to Design By by Joshua Porter. It’s a very good post, but point 2 has set some alarm bells off in my head once again.

Design is not art. That old chestnut.

This keeps coming up recently. Why? I’ve no idea but it’s beginning to bug me. Here’s my take on it all.

Design is not art.

That is, design is not art if you define the simple motivations. An artist is self-motivated, a designer is motivated by a client. True, artists could be commissioned etc, but I don’t want to quibble about semantics here. You get my drift.

How do I define design? Design solves a problem.

Now, that problem could be communicating a message, telling a brand story or inventing a new type of dishwasher; it doesn’t matter. So, that is my One Principle to Design By. Solve the problem

Ah, but.

That’s not the whole story.

The grey area of Art and Design is the practice of the craft of design. It’s the difference between a design being usable and a design being usable and special.

Take the Dyson vacuum for example. This vacuum works slightly differently than the others. It still does the same job, but has been designed to differenciate itself from its competitors. The designers solved the same problem in a different way. Ok, all good. Now we get down to how the thing looks. There is love in this product. There is craft in this product.

Of course, no discussion on this would be complete without mentioning Apple. Apple make beautiful products. But they didn’t always do that, and they nearly went bust because of it. For a long time, Apple made pretty good computers. In 1998, they made the first iMac. The distinguishing features of this new machine were crafted and mostly aesthetic. They are examples of beautiful product design. As a result, they sold a bomb and the rest is history.

Those are product design, but the same applies to graphic design. I’d argue that a well crafted, beautiful piece of design that solves the problem, will always do it better than one that just solves the problem. There is an important place within design for beauty and craft and it bothers me that experienced designers* in this medium don’t recognise this and are blindly advocating successful design as a practice without craft. It’s not the case.

Ok. Rant over.

* I’m not having a dig at Joshua here, or anybody in particular, it’s just a vibe I’ve been getting for the past year. 

Filed in: design, personal.

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