Why Design? / Week 2
A Quick Note
Happy Independence Day! I want to take a moment to remember the men who signed the Declaration of Independence 243 years ago. Many of them were men with strong moral character and honor, some were not. Nonetheless, these men signed their names to a document that they knew would likely mean certain death for them. It marked the beginning of what would become the United States’ disdain for tyranny. Many died in the Revolutionary War that followed because they believed in what the Founders stood for. They believed in liberty. I hope that today we can all think about the truths that this Nation was founded on. The truths that we have, at times, failed to live up to, but must always stand by.
Now on with the blog!
The Choices We Make
I’ve been doing design semi-professionally since I was 15, and at a professional level since 18. Now, here I am, at 22, with a strong (for my age) professional resume and portfolio. I could be pursuing a stable career as an in-house designer or a member of a creative studio. Instead, I’m sitting in a Starbucks, drinking an Americano, writing emails, developing projects in Illustrator, and writing this blog. I’m still not 100% sure if I made the right decision. There are a few things I know for sure. I love design (this week’s topic), I want to be my own boss (next week’s topic), this decision impacts far more than just myself (the week after that), and I want to be able to make a living while doing it all (the week after that).
This week I want to simply ask: why design? I have loved design since before I knew what design was. I was picky about things. Unimportant things, like the way food was arranged on my plate, or how I wrote my name on school papers, for some reason, mattered to me. In elementary school, my books were always neatly organized within my desk. Being told to stop drawing during class was a usual occurrence. I had this innate sense that I liked things a certain way. I always thought, and part of me still does, that there must be a right way to do everything. A most efficient, most visually pleasing, most effective way to do any task. I see now that those thought processes were fundamentally rooted in design thinking (a term you should Google). I fit perfectly into a field that I didn’t even know existed. As I got older and realized that I would need an actual career plan at some point, so I didn’t have to ever live in my parents’ musty basement, I received a mixed-bag of advice. While some people recommended an art related practice, due to my creative inclinations (spoiler alert: I’m not an artist), others would recommend something more secure, like engineering or another less-creative field. I wanted something that was both and neither of those, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what was out there.
Design is Not Art
In my tiny high school, most people didn’t know what “design” was, so they would say things like, “you should go into art!” The thing was, I didn’t like art all that much. That has always surprised people. Sure, I enjoyed drawing, and to some extent, painting, but I never enjoyed art class as much as some of my peers. It was too open-ended and subjective. I wanted to be correct or incorrect. I like knowing that I did something right, that I succeeded. It seemed to me, and still does, that art is far too open to personal opinions, biases, and interpretation. There’s no way to know if it works. It doesn’t really achieve a purpose, aside from expression. While design can inform you about the world, art can typically only inform you about one person: the artist. While there is a place for art in our society, I find it much less interesting than creating something with a broader appeal. Now that I’ve offended most of the artists reading this, I’ll move on to the engineers.
In addition to those recommending an artistic profession, I also had some people telling me to go into something seemingly more stable, like computer science or architecture, and pursue creative endeavors once I had something to “fall back on.” I have absolutely no resentment towards that advice. I know that those recommendations only came from a place of love. A desire for me to achieve stability. The problem was, I didn’t enjoy that kind of work. Scientific fields require math and formulas, which sounded intensely boring (still does). While I like structure, orderliness, and organization, that would have been too much structure. I need creativity, too.
The Best of Both Worlds
Many would consider a craving for creativity and a demand for order to be incompatible traits. For me, though, design beautifully blended them into one practice. It’s art with a purpose. At Kent State’s Visual Communication Design Program (not an advertisement), I learned about the history of design: a rich narrative, ranging from Gutenberg’s Press of the 1400’s to the Bauhaus School of Design in the 1900’s. I adored using the grid to create order, and breaking that same grid if I wanted to inject a bit of chaos. I was infatuated with the structures and building blocks of design, and how to properly use those tools to communicate a message. I learned that design was something that I wanted to do, in some way, for the rest of my life. I realized a way of thinking and problem solving that I didn’t know I always wanted. While art communicates to the individual, design communicates to the masses in ways that few realize. As I continued to learn more about this world through my education, I knew that whatever I ended up doing or creating, design would be a fundamental part of it, because it is a part of me, and it was, long before I realized it.
Design encompasses the best elements of the worlds of art, engineering, and language. It’s the album cover that gives you a glimpse into the sound of an artist. It helps you quickly find the restroom after drinking three coffees in two hours. The movie poster that excites you, the clothing your favorite video game character wears, the traffic safety signs you shouldn't ignore: all design. If you start looking for it, you’ll see it. Much of the world’s best design is un-praised, being utilized every day without notice, because many people just never think about it. It is everywhere, unavoidable, and, at its best, invisible. The best designers know how to communicate a message without the recipient even being aware. Design should convey a message as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you have to explain why it works, it probably doesn’t. Take art and communication, mash them together with just a dash of science, that’s design. It’s the pure joy of creativity perfectly paired with the usefulness of structure. That’s why I love it.
Let me know in the comments what you think design is and how it relates to art. If you’re new to the world of design, tell me what you think of it! Next week, I’m going to be discussing the best and worse parts of being my own boss, and whether or not you should try it. Sign up for email alerts below so you never miss a post, or follow me on Instagram @joshuathedesigner to see some of the projects I’m working on. Thanks for reading!