Saturday, 10 December 2016

Design isn't done at the computer

I was once told "Design is everything you do when you're not at the computer" – I feel I may have quoted this before, but I'm far too lazy to check.


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The quote "Design is everything you do when you're not at the computer" seems both counter-intuitive and fully intuitive. If you are reading this at the start of a design education, it may seem bizarre to hear that design isn't the physical production, it isn't the posters, logos and websites you see if you search 'Design' in a particular search engine that could be misspelt as Goggle.

It's a lie if I tell you that those posters and logos are not design, but they are not the whole existence of design. It's also a lie if I told you that no part of design is done at the computer, as these logos and websites were most definitely created at the computer.

Though these items are part of design, they are the final part, they are the production—whereas the term design is almost completely encompassed by the process. From the public eye, Design, or more specifically Graphic Design is a logo on a leaflet, a box on a shelf and a website on the internets, though in reality it's everything it took to reach that logo, leaflet, box and website.

If we were to break it down as simply as possible, we'd have three particular principles that existed in all good design, emphasis on the good. Disclaimer—Good design does not describe pretty design. Good design, is design that serves it's purpose with maximum efficiency. Pretty design is just pretty.

  1. Research and Knowledge: (45%) The design that anyone creates is built upon the foundation of research or knowledge. The process, structure or influence can be conjured either from the existing knowledge of a senior, well practiced designer—just as a more junior designer can create work from research in the same manner. Note that knowledge in this sense does not directly reference knowledge in design, general knowledge and intelligence of the world they exist in, is a significant tool in a designers toolbox.
  2. Development and failure: (45%) As design works in the most part as a supply and demand industry, orbiting around clients, failure is both inevitable and necessary. In it's simplest form, you only ever finish a project by developing away all the wrong choices. How do you carve an elephant? Chip away every bit of stone that doesn't look like an elephant.
  3. Production: (10%) Production encompasses the final part of design, from choice of paper stock, to printing methods, size and shape. This is the part you'll see and feel, but realistically the part you have the least actually control over. You'll chose how it should all look, but often you may be in total mercy to your printer. This differs for things like web design and furniture where the production may take the longest of these three sections, though it's percentage does not.

Looking at the title of this post, the claim that design is not done at the computer still seems outlandish, but if you assess how much of the above would actually done at the computer, I can safely say you may be now starting to be indoctrinated into the Walden Way of Thought™ – Free 1-Month trail if you sign up now and pledge an eternity of allegiance.

There is a story about Picasso that might help me convince you to join my radical blog based design cult, the story goes a little like this.
Picasso was sat on a bench in Paris when suddenly a wealthy woman recognises him, runs up to him and demands she have her portrait drawn by him, to which he politely agrees and begins sketching. After 5 minutes of the woman siting as still as her small back, weighed down by copious amounts of jewelry would let her, Picasso exclaims that he is finished, hands over his artwork to her and vocally invoices her for £50,000. She at once stands up in horror and expresses to him that she would not pay this price as he took barely five minutes to produce her portrait. To this Picasso addresses the woman and tell her "But my dear, it's taken my whole life in which to make this portrait in five minutes".



If my story telling is anywhere near worth it's salt, hopefully I'll have explained how design is not created at the computer, just as Picasso's art was not just purely created on that single sheet of paper to which the lady's portrait was held. The finesse and quality of Picasso's art was fifty plus years in the making and the drawing was merely it's production, just as design is finalised at a computer but built upon hours of history, strain and failure.

Side note: The point that design isn't done at the computer seems ever more poignant when you assess that until twenty years a go design on a computer was either a non-existing phrase or complete science fiction. So if there are any readers from the early 20th Century, please read the instead as Design isn't done at the Drafting Table.  

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