Sunday, January 3, 2010

Non-Exhaustive Qualities of Good Design

So, now we must establish what GOOD design is - not an easy task. As stated before, there is no all-encompassing test, no standard in the aether by which we measure all.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive series of questions. This is meant to help you analyze a single piece of design. Here we go:

Communication : Does it communicate? And does it communicate what it intended? And if it has communicated effectively, does it accomplish what it set out to achieve?

Balance & Proportion : Is there a good balance and use of space? If not, was it purposeful? Are the elements in good proportion to one another? Why or why not?

Use of Elements : Is there one primary element that draws you? Is this element a central focus? If not, does it detract from the whole of the design? What is the purpose of multiple elements? Do they serve a "whole"? With the elements used, is the piece, as a whole, strong or fragile?

Originality : Is the piece original?

Interest & Movement : Is the piece interesting? Is it compelling? Does it inspire? Do you want to see it again?

Permanence : Does it endure? Is it timeless? Does it transcend an era, movement, or trend?

Transcendence : Will it stand up to "abuse"? In other words, if there is visual distortion/noise, blur, or distance that affect its communication or distinction, this weakens the piece.


1. "Rules" and qualities of design can be broken in order to communicate effectively.

2. This was a cursory examination. These qualities can easily be broken down into full posts, if not essays on their own.

3. If there is an overly-serious quality to these posts, I am trying to tackle major issues that have permeated the design industry for decades. We hunt a behemoth.

"He tasks me; he heaps me; i see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Simple Act of Defining Design

A friend of mine asked me to post some design principles. Before even doing so, i believe we have to establish what exactly design IS.

In the context of commercial print or media, my concise definition of design would be:

the arrangement of elements, images, type, and / or colour into an original piece.

(apologies to Shepard Fairey for that "original" part)

Now, this is simply a definition of design.

Within the confines of this definition (if there are confines), there are certainly many designers in this world because there are many people who can in-fact move elements about on a virtual page.

However, this definition does not involve the QUALITY of design.

So, i offer this paraphrase of a quote of a quote (my memory > Paul Rand > John Dewey):

A designer (or artist) is one who has a particular sensitivity to the quality of things.

I would alter this definition just slightly - a GOOD designer is one who has this sensitivity.

This is what distinguishes good designers / designs from bad ones. Elements, images and type can all be arranged, but a good design is one in which they are arranged WELL.

What is "well"? Hmm. To quote Justice Potter Stewart, "I know it when i see it."

We shall discuss relativity vs. absolute truth in art later.

We cannot have one single litmus test - one quality that qualifies above all else.

So, at a later date, we shall look at some variegated qualities of GOOD design.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Unqualifications

To some extent, i feel that i should not be writing a blog about design (or any blog, for that matter).

Let me supply three reasons:

1. "Of the writing of books, there is no end..." More than ever, i think this applies. Blogs have been, in my view, vehicles for self-aggrandizing, bloviating, verbose and loquacious "jacksons." There have never existed in the world as many words as there do today. And they are e'er increasing. The excess of anything lessens its value. Why should i contribute to this exponential devaluation (with regards to words)?

2. While i have been formally educated, and have experience in a small business, i am, by no means successful, nor am i extremely well-read. I have not finished my John Dewey book. I haven't read the oft-quoted books by Hegel or Beardsley, nor have i fully read even Tschichold's treatise on Typography. And I have only a slightly-more-than-cursory knowledge of design and art history.

What have i to contribute? What is there new to say that has not already been said? (especially when i am not fully AWARE of all that is extant)

3. Finished product. I have problems finishing things that i begin. This corresponds with Point 2. I seldom finish a book, and rarely do i consider many of my designs as finished. Given an infinite amount of time, i would endlessly "tweak" a design until i deemed something "perfect." Unless i purge myself of this flaw to some degree, this blog will never grow.

However, to Begin an endeavour is part of its battle, and nurturing passion in it, is the rest.

To address my first two concerns:

1. There is a proverbial (Biblical) saying that "a good tree produces good fruit..." It's time i changed my view about blogs. I was correct in one part - they are vehicles. That is all. A craftsman and a hack can use the same tools.

Furthermore, words are all the same; they have always existed. Hopefully, the arrangement, combination, and tone of them will produce something new.

Now, back to design:

2. I will not discuss and analyze the business and science of design (which are better left to more qualified persons), but rather the thought and philosophy of design. This, in turn, affects the application of design.

Why should i discuss philosophy? In Six Great Ideas, by Mortimer Adler, he states that "Philosophy is everybody's business." We all engage in it (some more than others).

Philosophy of Design is an essential discussion, but sadly a losing (if not lost) art.

There is more to be said, but i will end with this:

You can be dazzled by technicalities, but you can be MOVED by ideas.