The word “design” signifies many meanings…
- an outline, sketch, or plan, as of the form and structure of a work of art
- organization or structure of formal elements in a work of art; composition.
- the combination of details or features of a picture, building, etc.; the pattern or motif of artistic work:
- to plan the form and structure of
- to plan and fashion artistically or skillfully
- to intend for a definite purpose
- to form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan
So what IS design? It is a subject very dear to my heart, having dedicated my professional life to design, so in this entry I will present an introduction of what design means to me.
When we talk about the visual presentation of something in a two-dimensional space, we are talking about graphic design. Graphic design is a planned organization of elements that communicate something visually.
No, Watson, this was not done by accident, but by design. — Sherlock Holmes
Within graphic design there are several specialty areas such as: logo design, print design, web design, etc. Each of these areas have their own criteria, ie., elements, that need to be combined to create the final design.
In logo design these elements are always:
This is true if the logo is only constructed from type even if customized, ie., no graphic. With a symbol or graphical element, the designer needs to also consider:
In print design, ie., brochures, advertisements, etc., there are far more elements to consider and balance. They are:
When these elements are properly balanced, what you have is a good design which clearly communicates the ‘message’ or key objective. You should know what the product or service is and if it matters to you. If you don’t know what it is or understand how it applies to you then it is not an example of good design.
When these elements are not properly balanced and therefore the “message” is not clear, the design not only is bad, it can actually be detrimental to the product or service it represents. Bad design can impact daily life, not just in advertising. An easy example is to think about all the times you have been confused, frustrated or even gotten lost by poorly designed signage.
But perhaps the most famous example of how design can impact one’s daily life is the fiasco of the design of Florida’s 2000 presidential election ballot.
If you are a print designer or want to be, here are some good resources to guide you.
- Top Mistakes Graphic Designers Make
- 15 Signs You’re A Bad Graphic Designer
- The Difference Between Good & Bad Graphic Design
- Good logo designs
Everything is designed. Few things are designed well. — Brian Reed
With print design, the designer only has to focus on the design itself not the production of the design which is done at the print shop. Of course a professional designer should know how to prepare the design for pre-press but the actual mechanics of the production is done elsewhere. With web design, however, often the designer has to wear many more hats. Even if they are not the one actually coding the site, they still need to understand how their designs will be coded and be much more ‘hands on’ in the production. Therefore, web design can be the most challenging to a professional designer because you have limited control of certain elements and additional elements to consider. The elements that you have limited control over are:
- Typeface (unless it is a graphic)
- Specfications (different browsers, resolutions and operating systems)
And then you have to consider the additional elements of:
- Technology — what will the site be built with and what technology it will contain
- Time — how fast the site loads
- Navigation — how can you find what you need
- Usability — the site needs to be a tool not just a visual design
Here are some good resources for what is you need to consider for a good web design:
Design is where science and art break even. — Robin Mathew
Math is easy; design is hard. – Jeffrey Veen
So now you should have an idea of what design is and why it matters. Without design, everything would be random and without plan or purpose. Design channels creativity within the constraints of what it needs to communicate.
If you are interested in design, the inspiration for design is everywhere. When I am in the process of designing something new, the first thing I do is get away from the computer for a while and just spend some time looking. The processes I learned from my formal design education gives me valuable tools to create designs. With a traditional schooling in graphic design one learns:
- typography — classic typefaces and their nuances, kerning, letter-spacing, counterforms
- grids — how to use one to layout a design and when to break from the grid
- color — its power, subtlety, symbolism, creating a color palette
- how to simplify — this is one of the hardest things to learn
- how to edit — focus your ideas and select what works
- and the easiest of thing to learn — the computer programs used in design such as Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.
Most “designers” start with the computer programs, have fun with all the bells and whistle and think they know all they need. But as one of my personal heroes once said…
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. — Abraham Lincoln
I’ll end with a couple of fun links:
- Quotes on Design — the quotes I used in this article came from this site
- Design Police — see a bad design? Download this kit and you are ready…