Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good design is good design is good design: A (Somewhat Philosophical) Introduction to Design - Part 1

I've been wanting to start a series of blog articles on design. My previous series of articles was on promoting, and it had a very good response. It seems that I like doing multiple posts in series form. Perhaps it is because I am terribly long winded when it comes to discussion or more thorough than I need to be when it comes to basic information. For whatever reason, I'm starting a new series today on design. This is just my introductory post to the topic, but I would like to expand on several aspects of design from the artistic core to the technical realities.

Design is a topic that I think carries over into all media very well. Whether you have chosen to be an illustrator, a metalsmith, glass artist, jeweler, etc. (the list goes on and on). One factor is constant among all artisans, and this is design. It is at the core of what we do. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, design is to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan. It is such a simple definition, but it obviously makes clear that true design is purposeful.

My day job is teaching college level introductory courses to graphic design. You might ask why I am going off on this tangent after introducing you to the technical definition of design. Well, it is because I spend a large majority of my time explaining, educating, and critiquing students on topics of design - fundamental good design and how to achieve that within their work. One of the first things that I tell my students is that "Good design is good design." I know that is sounds like a philosophical cop-out or a tag line phrase. Yet, this is true no matter what they calendar year or current trend. Truly good design is timeless and ever appealing.

In my classes, I also try to relate the fact that the revered artists of times past are no different than they are. It is simply the media and the processes that have changed in some cases. Over past centuries of pursuit of good design in the arts, artisans were also living and working and trying to provide for their families just as my students are or will be, and just and you and I are. A pivotal core to being able to exist and live well as an artisan is understanding fundamental good design practices. And, in turn, taking that knowledge and producing desirable, marketable works of art, fashion, jewelry, etc. After all, your artistic endeavors do you no good as a professional unless you can also provide for your family and your self and be a contributing member of society. The term "starving artist" is used much too often in main stream society, but I don't particularly find it funny.

Perhaps you were just born to be an artist and exude so much talent that is flows out of all your being, but natural, innate talent will only take you so far with the true definition of design. This is another point about design that I try to convey to students as many of them are very talented naturally at a young age. Eventually though, they will hit a brick wall whether it be due to not knowing the technical aspect of the art well enough to translate their brilliant ideas into realities or whether it be due to getting caught up in their own little box of self-seficiency that was fostered by their natural talent and no need to explore other possibilities. I believe that natural talent can only take you so far. Therefore, whether you are self-taught or educated at a learning institution of some kind, it is essential to be continually adding to your technical and artistic knowledge to produce consistently good design.

Each new semester of students, I see myself in the rows of seats. I once sat where they are, and some of them may stand where I am some day. And, at times, I sincerely wish that I could hand over some of my life experience to them to save them the trouble, but that is not possible. All that I can do is demand of them their best work - their best design. All that I can do is ask that they thoughtfully and purposefully consider every aspect of their projects from initial conception to production. All that I can do is repeat this process over and over in the hopes that by the time that they are sitting in a job interview, they will be prepared to consistently create works of good design. And, in turn, put food on their tables, clothe their children, and feel satisfied and honored to have chosen a design profession.

Often times I see that skewed look on others faces when I tell them that I am an "artist." The look seems to be better when I introduce myself as a "graphic designer." I guess because they think that at least you are not completely broke financially. That you have a "real" job. It is funny to me though that the term "artist" gets such great disrespect by many. As if it is not as valid as the profession of lawyer or doctor or accountant or etc. (and the list goes on). The truth is that, in order for me to truly live up to the label of professional artist, I must know as much technically as any of those professions, and on top of that, I must also always be considering and evaluating what good design is. Which is something that you can not find in a text book. Our profession, as artisans, is quite demanding yet seemingly under appreciated. It is also quite unnoticed by the masses. Although, I ask you to think of a world completely devoid of design - no color, no images, no pretty type, (and the list goes on and one) . . . This is a question that I ask my students in order for them to gage the importance of their chosen career field as designers. No, they probably will not get the same reception as a doctor, or lawyer, or accountant by mainstream society's job market, but a world without artists and designers is not a world that any doctor, or lawyer, or accountant that I know would really ever want to live in either. Think about that the next time anyone gives you skewed look when you introduce yourself as an "artist." And then, hopefully realize how important good design can be.

**The image is a screen shot of a wonderful print from ohkayk's Etsy shop. It is a great example of what I would consider good design.


  1. Wow! Great article...really, really great article. Also, I am quite flattered that you think my prints are "good design" when you know so much about graphic design and I just meddle in it here and there.

    Speechless, really. Thanks for including me in your blog.

  2. I look forward to reading more in this series! Great topic :)

  3. thanks :)

    and, Kay, I really like the idea behind your prints - they are very unique and fun.

    now I need to come up with my next installment on design.


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