Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Chuck out your chintz*

The thing that separates a good designer from a bad one is simple. A good designer begins by looking to the function of the thing. A bad designer worries about its style.

This is true in every case and in every category - from graphic design (or Visual Communication Design as it is sometimes grandiously redefined) to transport design.

A great designer has an objective in mind:

How can I communicate clearly with the end user?

A bad designer worries about whether their work is 'hip'.

It interests me how designers have engaged with the web. Many see it as an opportunity to translate their print design to an electronic medium that is dynamic and forgiving (there is no cost of reprinting if there is an error). Few understand that people still use the Internet as a source of information - first and foremost. One of the things we want is to be able to find what we are looking for as fast as possible. The analogy of a superhighway was used in the early days of the web and it is useful as a metaphor for finding one's way around. The reason exit ramps aren't signwritten in Edwardian Script is because you wouldn't be able to read it at high speed. You'd miss your turn, or worse run into the back of the car in front as you both slowed and tried to decipher the information.

I get frustrated talking with designers who are more concerned about trendy imaging or doing some thing 'new' - especially when their unproven approach defies the reality of how people respond to information - especially new information.

There is nothing wrong with clarity. There is nothing wrong with order. Thses things reduce anxiety (if you haven't read it I recommend Information Anxiety and its sequel Information Anxiety 2 by Saul Wurman). And, if you are designer who is approaching a web task, familiarise yourself with Designing Web Usability by Jakob Neilson. Stop being a decorator and start designing.

*Homage to St Lukes Ikea campaign developed by John Grant.

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