WPDFD Articles: RE What is design?

started by Jdenny on May 12, 2004 — RSS Feed

Jdenny Jdenny
Posts: 65


Above all, design is about standing back, taking a detached view of the task in hand, analysing it, exploring it and coming up with solutions that are as unique as the problems presented


Glad someone agree's with me! Although uniquenss is an optional requirement. ;D

Now for the other problem with design semantics that been bugging me since I moved onto Web design...

I argue that the majority of people think design is all about drawing / 2D-patterns / shapes and forms, and I mean beyond stylists thinking design is only about 'looking good' they understand that looks are not the only requirement or condition for success, but fail to grasp that everything man-made was designed and that there's a damn lot of things where 'looks' are irrelevant or you can't even see the thing that has been designed.

Now, I get the impression that this site 'Web Page Design for Designers' should really be called 'Web Page Graphic Design for Graphic Designers' and although additional topics are covered, the fundamental mind-set I get from this site is about visuals.

You are a good graphic designer and not a stylist, and you probably are a good general designer because you know design involves the analysing, research, planning, exploring creativity, and evaluating solutions (to find the best). It is these things that I say design involves that I would like to suggest design IS.

OK so 'design' technically has another definition, and that is a visual pattern or graphic article. But designers should be the people that do the other 'design' not simply people that create graphics (even if they design the graphics first).

To clarify, the design I like to talk about is the solution finding, problem solving, purposeful objective planning and creation. See my next post (reply) for my dictionary.com quote, grouped into the 2 distinctive definitions.

I think it is a big problem of miss-understanding the word design and designer, or at least the problem of not knowing which is meant by the person speaking, (in a lot of contexts especially web sites and graphic design its harder than you may realise).
The problem includes potential clients who don't know what you actually do as a professional, always when I say I'm a web designer the person I'm talking to makes a comment about graphic design (I've come to expect it now) I have to try and re-educate them.
The worst thing is uneducated people calling them selves a 'web designer' when they are more accurately a graphic designer, computer artist, HTML programmer, or just a dreamweaver/frontpage operator. That gives potential clients the wrong definition of what a web designer does (or should do), and reinforces the miss-understanding.

I have to admit though, that graphic design (when properly taught) is probably the best and closest thing to web design (assuming that web design is not a subject being taught). I think any graphic designer just needs a bit more education in generic design to become a web designer, and a generic designer needs some education in graphic design.

I've been glad to see lots of web sites and blogs pointing out that many people who think they are 'designers' are really 'stylists' but no-one apart from me seems to worry about 'designers' that are really 'graphic designers'.
Why is this? Is it because I'm just plain wrong? Is it because the graphic designers shorten their title for convenience? is it because graphic designers have a lot of overlap with general design? Or is it because, as I fear, the majority of people including professionals don't know the difference?!
(Probably a combination of the last three.)

Jdenny Jdenny
Posts: 65

(http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=design)
design-[type A]
verbs (tr.):
  1.
        i. To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent: design a good excuse for not attending the conference.
        ii. To formulate a plan for; devise: designed a marketing strategy for the new product.
  2. To plan out in systematic, usually graphic form: design a building; design a computer program.
  3. To create or contrive for a particular purpose or effect: a game designed to appeal to all ages.
  4. To have as a goal or purpose; intend.

verbs (intr.):
  5. To make or execute plans.
  6. To have a goal or purpose in mind.
  7. To create designs.
nouns:
  8. A basic scheme or pattern that affects and controls function or development: the overall design of an epic poem.
  9. A plan; a project. See Synonyms at plan.
  10.
        i. A reasoned purpose; an intent: It was her design to set up practice on her own as soon as she was qualified.
        ii. Deliberate intention: He became a photographer more by accident than by design.
  11. A secretive plot or scheme. Often used in the plural: He has designs on my job.


design-[type B]
nouns:
  12.
        i. A drawing or sketch.
        ii. A graphic representation, especially a detailed plan for construction or manufacture.
  13. An ornamental pattern. See Synonyms at figure.

design-[either/ambiguous]
verbs (tr.):
  14. To create or execute in an artistic or highly skilled manner.
nouns:
  15. The purposeful or inventive arrangement of parts or details: the aerodynamic design of an automobile; furniture of simple but elegant design.
  16. The art or practice of designing or making designs.
  17. Something designed, especially a decorative or an artistic work.


I renumbered them so I can comment on some...

Type A (definitions 1 to 11) are my sort of design, all about planning, purpose, inventing devising...

Type B (definitions 12 and 13) are the commonly known sort of design, all about graphics, visual shapes and visual style. They are better know because the good ones are high-profile, popular and evident, whereas type A is done behind the scenes, out of the public eye and because often the goal of design is to be invisible - people notice bad design[A] more than good design[A]. People notice good design a lot more than they notice good or bad design[A].

Definitions 14 to 17 could be used for either sort, e.g. "the aerodynamic design of an automobile" could refer to the aerodynamic being part of the design specification,  or it could refer to the (aerodynamic) shape/form of the car.

Number 17 says "especially a decorative or an artistic work" because it doesn't have to be a decorative/artistic article but that is the most commonly recognised way to use the term.

Number 2 says 'usually graphic' because graphics are used to communicate what's in the designer's head. It adds to the confusion when people see these illustrations, sketches and technical drawings and (correctly) refer to them as designs[type B]. They are in fact, designs that depict aspects of a design[A].

What's the big deal?
There's a lot of confusion over various job titles in the industry, and this is part of the reason.
I think educating the people that need it (everyone that doesn't already know) would help, and hopefully people would then be more accurate or careful to be explicit about which type of 'design' they actually mean.

I am guilty of using the single-word 'design' when referring to the visual aesthetics of my work and also when referring to the design[A] solution I created. I even use them both in the same sentence... Imagine how easily a client can get confused - or rather, they would assume I mean the graphics every time, and not understand what I'm saying! I do it automatically because the same word is correct in both instances and I know which one I mean, but that's not a good enough excuse in my opinion.

Joe Gillespie Joe Gillespie
Posts: 528

Yes, the word 'design' is a very broad term but is aided by the context in which it is used.

Web Page Design for Designers was originally intended for 'graphic designers'. People who have worked in more traditional design disciplines such as 'print' but want to move into 'screen' as I did.

My Master's degree was in 'visual communication' which is broader than 'graphic design' and when I first went to work in advertising, 'graphic design' hardly came into it. It was about getting messages across using the visual senses. Press, posters, television, packaging.

Although there were 'copywriters', 'visualizers' and 'art directors', that distinction became very blurred. Some of my most successful posters had no copy on them at all. I've also done posters with no images at all.

The one common factor is 'the idea'. The vital difference between 'an image' and 'a concept'.

This article from 1998 Design perspectives show how I view design (and designers). It is a mix of intellect (head), craft (hand) and heart (emotion) but the proportions vary considerably from one person to another. There is no right or wrong, just different perspectives.

I did a poster at college (many years ago) advertising the degree exhibition. It consisted of a picture of the student and his parents looking at an exhibit on the wall with a vertical series of speech bubbles that went something like this:-

"Did you draw the picture?"
"No, I got an illustrator to do that"
"Did you take the photograph?"
"No, a photographer did"
"Then, did you write the words?"
"No, a copywriter wrote the words"
"What did you do then?"
"I designed it!"

Blank stares!

Jdenny Jdenny
Posts: 65

There is no right or wrong, just different perspectives.

Yes I can't argue with that!

"Did you draw the picture?"
"No, I got an illustrator to do that"
"Did you take the photograph?"
"No, a photographer did"
"Then, did you write the words?"
"No, a copywriter wrote the words"
"What did you do then?"
"I designed it!"

Blank stares!

That's a great one I love that!
The article being discussed is a drawing though - talking about a picture doesn't help my case if people don't already understand.
But that's not a problem as such here as your primary audience is obviously people like me who will smile knowingly recognising a typical conversation. Or was it supposed to make other people ask questions?

I would love some way to illustrate my point like that, but even better would be something clear and  unambiguous that educates those that have no idea what I'm talking about.

I sort of forgot (as you might be trying to remind me here) that you can desgin[A] a design, but mentioning this is another way to confuse people who don't know the difference.


Ah 'visual communication'  I didn't think of that one, maybe there's more emphasis on generic design[A] in either that or graphic design (I don't know which now as I always assumed you were only in graphic design)?

For me the first indication that someone is a designer[A] is putting ego third, client second and user first. Even better is when they put the project success first, and can measure success by evaluating against the requirements specification and design specification they came up with previously.

But I have become more and more cynical every day and now I find people who I used to think understood design[A], really only showed the indicators (above) because they were trained by repetition (without understand why the do it like that) or because they learned that such techniques are 'good business' and they are really just greedy business-(wo)men with no real care for the end user (just their wallets). How can I tell them apart or should I stop wondering and go with the flow??


I'm sure you agree there are many self-proclaimed web designers out there that only do the physical work, (the drawing of the graphics and the coding), but do you agree that they should not be called 'designers' because they are only really manufacturing?
Most clients won't know if they are hiring a manufacturer or a designer, some might be hiring a project manager that gets designers and manufacturers in as a team to do things properly. I think these are clearly different jobs but they all have the same title, and I think that's a more important issue than arguing (as in some blogs) about whether web design is really interface design, or what Information Architects really do.

If I ask any given designer if they have any ambiguous conversations about 'design' and they answer 'no' is it because they get it wrong without realising there could be a problem, or because they've learned to differentiate the two uses of the D-word accurately when talking to complete strangers??

Am I alone in my concerns, is it just me that has trouble spotting true designers, or maybe there is no true designer? Certainly everyone's view is valid, but if everyone had different views on the meaning of too many other words verbal communication would break down completely.

Do I take this too seriously?

Joe Gillespie Joe Gillespie
Posts: 528

I think the problem is that you are too concerned with the 'process' and not the 'result'. A web page that doesn't do its job is 'bad design' - and that is regardless of how good or bad it looks or how well or badly it is coded.

The first thing you have to ask is 'what is the job it has to do?' That is not always as clear cut as you might think. People do not always speak to communicate, they sometimes speak for other reasons beyond mere communication. Think about it.

For instance, a horticulturist doesn't sell grass seed, but a beautiful lawn.

Property developers don't sell houses, they sell homes.

The purpose of a newspaper is not to disseminate news, it is to make money for the publisher. The 'news' is incidental to the real purpose.

Think hard about what you are selling, it's not web design, that is only a process that you have to go through to get there. It is not the result.

I come back to my earlier definition of 'design' about making something suited for its purpose. You have to understand what that purpose is for the process to be meaningful.

Jdenny Jdenny
Posts: 65

Yes good, the end result I haven't been thinking of it that way.

Clients more naturally think in that way (I think) so that's good, but what if they ask for a web site and expect my to be just the drawing and coding (manufacture)? I can take the job that's fine but sometimes there is no design done, or worse still they've got a design done already with I disagree with. I suppose that is when I should start education them and hope I can make them understand (so that they pay me more instead of getting a cheap web site elsewhere). Taking what you say, I should try to emphasise the end result will be better if is well designed.

I'm glad to hear you talking about understanding the purpose but I feel a need to tell other people that are selling web sites that they need to design the site first or call them selves web site builders, typically these are kids who do photoshop and dreamweaver/flash, and really don't get what I'm trying to say, or dismiss design as 'a bit of preliminary research' they sometimes do. I suppose I should be glad that they do that at least!

When you boil down my two separate definitions of design they both have one main theme in common - they are done purposefully, with intent, with a motive, deliberately or with some contemplation.


Another slightly difficult thing for me is applying all I know about design in a context where you already have a very good idea of the end result, the 'problem' is they have no web site and the 'solution' I must come up with is to give them one. Well at least I have trouble explaining it any other way even though I know it's not so simple.

How do you think I should explain what I do 'web design' to potential clients who either think I mean graphic design or just manufacture?  (I've had trouble explaining that it's not just the way it looks that needs designing.)

I'll have a go:
"Designing a web site does not just mean physically producing it or its graphics, it involves objective analysis of your situation, wants and needs, the project motives and constraints, the definition of the project requirements, research into the environment in which it will live and the people who will be using it. Followed by creating concepts that will be evaluated and refined until finally the best solution is found and the physical production work begins."

- that's very long winded and probably too detailed!

I suppose I should look at it more as you say - I must find the purpose for each site and ensure it is fit for purpose.

I'll try again:
"Design is about deriving the site's purpose, investigating your motives, situation, market segments, and needs. specifying goals and specific requirements, which are used to direct concept ideas I create toward the best solution. Only this, followed up with sound production techniques, will be sure to yield the best result."

- better and more descriptive don't you think? But still quite long. I must be trying to explain too much.

Any better (and shorter) ideas?

Joe Gillespie Joe Gillespie
Posts: 528

Let me throw another thought into the mix.

Invariably, when a customer wants a web site what they are really looking for is a marketing solution for their business. As it goes, many of them think that just having a web site with their name on it is going to suck-in untold riches for minimal effort and expense.

They expect to have some web pages with details of their products/services. They probably want a logo thown in. They will write the 'copy' themselves - if you could call it that.

Then using this black magic called Search Engine Optimisation, they expect to be having thousands of hits within the month.

Does this ring any bells?

Is it any wonder there are so many failed businesses?

If you need a heart bypass operation, you don't go to a dentist! No matter how good the dentist is, he is not going to solve your problem.

If the problem is a marketing one, and it usually is, a Web designer is not the right person either. There is a whole load of stuff missing here - the trouble being that the customer AND the web designer don't know what they don't know.

How can you possibly solve a problem when you a. don't know what the problem is, b. don't have the skills to solve it even if you can figure it out?

But, it has all happened before. There was a time when companies had their printer do their advertising for them. Some printers even employ 'graphic designers' - but there is no substitute for a sound marketing plan and strategy - and research to feed back into the mix.

Now, I'm not saying that every web site needs a marketing solution, because they might not be selling anything, but every web site has a purpose and it is the 'designers' job to fulfil the brief. If there isn't a brief, which is often the case, they should write the brief and agree it with the client before doing any work.

Article: Before you start! How to nail down a proper brief

Jdenny Jdenny
Posts: 65

Yup I totally agree with everything you added into the mix.

I would hope part of being a good designer is knowing when you are the wrong person for the job. Most of the 'script kiddies' etc that I call web site builders really wouldn't know, (in theory at least) and just roll out a site with no thought.



I was in the book shop today killing time and went immediately of course to the design section, which, predictably, was filled with a range of books about design[A] and design.

I was a bit disappointed, to read in "Thomas Hauffe Design: A Concise History" that the word design originated from a word meaning a drawing showing how to make something (like blue-prints or plans) and then to refer to the preliminary sketches and studies an artist does before painting a final piece. So it all started with design and the word was used in art as well as design[A] (in whatever form design[A] may have existed).
At the same time these designs (the sketches and plans) were indeed a tool in the design[A] process (whether creating a product design or artistic artifact), so the word has been confusing, or non-specific from the very beginning, and it's starting to become a bit of a '...chicken or the egg' story.

The people who invented or devised things that needed to be made also are the people who made the sketches and drew the plans (to use them as tools). So were they labeled 'designers' because they drew designs or because they created things using some designs[A] process?
Or was there never a difference?

Joe Gillespie Joe Gillespie
Posts: 528

Or was there never a difference?


Only if you count the 'designer' that came up with the racehorse and the 'committee' that went through the same process and came up with a camel!

Kenne Kenne
Posts: 2

Forum said:


"Did you draw the picture?"
"No, I got an illustrator to do that"
"Did you take the photograph?"
"No, a photographer did"
"Then, did you write the words?"
"No, a copywriter wrote the words"
"What did you do then?"
"I designed it!"

Blank stares!
this is cool haha. I'm a student of webpage design too. This question (what am I suppose to do after i graduate?) always appear in my mind and I get my answer haha.
But is it real that a webpage designer don't need to busy for the pics, photo stuffs?
How about freelancer? Do they need to do all those stuffs by their own? Or hire someone else like illustrator, copywriter, and photographer to do for them?

Joe Gillespie Joe Gillespie
Posts: 528

Nobody can do everything. Work to your strengths.

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