I read a book published by Metropolis Magazine called Design is"¦. It features a series of essays related to graphics, architecture, writing, criticism and print, and tries to get to the bottom of what makes design such a compelling force. It prompted an internal desire to get to the bottom; the minutia; the "crux" if you will -- of what design is -- all in a single word if possible.
If there is one thing that is present in the graphic design field, it's the understanding that design is about a decision. A decision made by a professional "creative-type", which either results in good design (positive audience reaction and good will transacted around and through the idea) or bad design (a forgotten idea, concept or product launch). It is the one certainty in all of the subjectiveness related to design criticism, admiration and worship.
Design is a decision. A single opportunity for a creative mind to resolve a problem (reach a decision) and produce results which apply to the problem at hand. Yet, this decision is based on external factors such as a client's motive, the climate in the industry (both graphic and industry specific), and finally, the internal motives of the designer. Artistic expression, on the other hand, is a largely internally focused decision, solving a problem posed by the artist themselves.
There is an ongoing debate (mainly propagated by non-designers) that the graphic design profession is not about interjecting one's personality into a creative endeavor; that this approach undermines the final solution, taints the profession and ultimately, the worlds' view on the profession into thinking that graphic design is purely driven by the quest for fame within the industry.
Well, part of this is true.
To examine the upward mobility and acceptance of "superstars" such as David Carson, Carlos Segura, Stefan Sagmeister and Matt Owens in their respective categories of graphic design, you can say that it was their specific personal approaches that gained an initial audience. It was a style that enticed the "gravy" projects: music, movies, and/or television to approach them for a specific style. However, from the historical perspective, it is obvious that the only style that should be held on to in graphic design is an intelligence of decision and the ability to convey the message that will add success to a client's endeavor.
Personal style is something, that over time, becomes outdated. That is the only certainty in the profession.
If you examine MTV, a network that has defined and brainwashed youth and pop-culture style since it's inception, you notice that it changes it's logo to suit it's style at the moment. This factor may be the understated brilliance of the entire concept.
Getting back to the idea that design is a decision...
If you look at anything organic or inorganic in our universe, there are decisions that have been made either by evolution, a "higher power", if you believe in it, or the hand of man. These individual decisions effect us in certain ways, and either it is embraced as a good idea and flourishes or it is forgotten. Good design relates to creative output that transcends a good decision. A bad decision, whether it be a bad typographic, interface, photographic, manufacturing or paper choice, will result in a flaw to the audience it intends to influence. Flawed design is not remembered, and injures or confuses people. The decision is what results in turmoil or positivity. If design is a decision in its purest sense, inversely is every decision a design? If you agree that design results in an experience whether tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory or through taste, then we are all designers in a very basic sense. There is the professional side of this idea -- that we must have separation between the "real" designers and the "non" designers, but if you look closely at the motives of many designers, it is far removed from decision-oriented thinkers and closer to those who think that this profession is a way to push a personal objective.
Design is not politics, yet is in many respects, a very political organization, depending on your chosen camp. Good Design is a good decision, and anyone is entitled to a good decision. That is why the graphic design Muse may visit a myriad of people, resulting in a wide variety of solutions, some embraced by groups of people (e.g. viral marketing: the use of guerilla tactics to ultimately, and unintentionally reach a huge audience).
It is only, however, a talented designer that can train themselves to repeatedly make good decisions which result in myriad client success stories.
Dave Fletcher is a Founder and Creative Director of theMechanism, a maxi-media firm in New York City and London. He hasn't read Design is... for several years and found this unfinished essay loose on his hard drive while cleaning up some space. With this understanding, he realized that Design is not only "Decision", but it is also understanding that Design can also benefit from finding stuff that you did in the past and repurposing it for the present.
Published by: davefletcher in The Design Mechanism