Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Good Design: Artful but not Art

Art seeks to create beauty-truth that others find valuable for in its provocation and impact. Design seeks to create value-truth that others find beautiful in its effective utility.

The act of design aims to find the best fit between identified problems and possible solutions within understood contexts. Inside that frame, design should be artful in its completeness and detail. But true art -- purely creative and beholden to no one -- may be almost never appropriate, possible, or even desirable. Even what seems like a truly new, artistic, solution by necessity must and will be broken down into visual and interactive concepts that match to the human capabilities present in the context of the solution, many of which remain relatively static over time. Thus the truly new is prevented and novelty is relegated at most to surface level representations, which, if used, often lead to confused offerings that are trying to appear new but succeed only in covering yesterday’s ordinary object in a shiny facade. The new then obfuscates meaning and use, defeating the entire purpose of creating a solution in the first place.

This does not mean there is no place for decoration, fun, artistic touches, and even whimsy, but they do not belong at the focal point of a solution, where clarity, purpose, and satisfaction must reign supreme. Rather than by artistic expression, these more important characteristics are produced by design craft: the thoughtful, deliberate application of knowledgeable, principled, and wise solving actions. This craft imbues the solution with a value derived from usefulness and usableness primarily, though they can be enhanced by desirability. Creating desire, though, is not the same as creating artistic attraction. The audience and purposes served are entirely different. Success of a designed object occurs coincident with a satisfaction enabled but not produced by it. Success of art takes many forms, but satisfaction of the beholder is rarely among them.

Good design demands a level of passion and care-taking on par with the creation of art. Exercising design at that level can result in artful, desirable solutions. Good design is not art, however, and is more valuable for that.