11 April 2004


A Blue Perspective: Love/Hate

I'm sure that you've hated something. The Spice Girls, Cherry Coke, the new VW Beetle. And I'm sure that you've hated something, but found two years later that you love it. The Smashing Pumpkins, iced tea, the new Mini. We're pretty fickle when it comes down to it, and good design seems to age like a fine wine; the vintage remains after all the dross has been sold at garage sales or carted down to the tip. This kind of subjectivity, however, has an alarming effect on design.

If something's true potential isn't realised until a few years down the track, how do you stop a great idea/design from being tossed aside by a near sighted decision maker? Designers live and die by their clients. Someone has to give a project the big tick, and they usually aren't a designer. If you've slaved over a design for hours upon hours and then the person paying the bills says they don't like horizontal menus, what can you do? Sometimes you can argue the point, but you don't want to push it too far, because changing the design isn't as drastic as losing a client, or getting fired.

I look at Jonathan Ive and Apple, and think of one of the greatest design partnerships of the past few decades, but what if Steve Jobs had said that he didn't like the iMac being so curvy? Translucent bits? I don't think so. After reading Adam Greenfield's piece, The Bathing Ape Has No Clothes, it reinforced my own views on style versus design, but also made me more aware that people in general aren't able to separate the two; if they don't like it, then it isn't well "designed".

At higher corporate levels – the brands that shape the World – I'm sure they have a much more objective process for deciding what's good and what's not, but at an everday level how do you mitigate the effects of opinion on reasoning? Can you persuade a client? Do you suck it up and go back to the drawing board? Or don't you kowtow to the almighty dollar and only allow chosen clients to receive your services – the ones whose design karma aligns perfectly with your own?




  1. 1/8

    Shannon J Hager commented on 12 April 2004 @ 05:34

    IANAD (I am not a designer) but I work with them on every project. I think that design falls into 2 categories: Picasso and house painters. When a client hires someone for a project, they usually want one or the other. The price they pay is usually indicative of which they expect. Sometimes the artist simply has to accept that they are a housepainter, not Picasso, at least for this project.

  2. 2/8

    Dave S. commented on 12 April 2004 @ 07:52

    Shannon - thank you for so adeptly summarizing how many of those outside of it view the design profession.

    If you go back through the 'Bathing Ape' article and re-read what Greenfield has written about the British Rail project you should catch a glimpse of why your extreme examples don't account for the real purpose of design.

    Admittedly: there are plenty of people making a lot of money who fall into your two groupings. I know a lot of house-painters, and I know a lot of Picassos.

    But true design falls somewhere in the middle, and adds an additional component that neither category takes into account: a purpose for the design.

    This is the real reason why we do what we do, and it's what Cameron and Adam are questioning. It's something I think about a lot too.

  3. 3/8

    Shannon J Hager commented on 14 April 2004 @ 07:34

    Dave, absolutely. The projects we all hope for and love are the ones where the client wants Picasso to paint his house.
    I didn't really flesh out my comment as much as I should have, but that middle ground is definitely the goal (and result) of a good project.
    I wasn't really saying that designers are either/or, I was speaking more of the role on a project and on the expectations of the client.
    But the rarity of that middle ground is a constant problem for most designers (and many developers and consultants) that I know, often causing the designer to develop a split personality, housepainter by day to pay the bills, Picasso at night working on their personal portfolios.

    Maybe we're just not finding the right way to get the client to meet us in that middle ground.

  4. 4/8

    Mike Combs commented on 15 April 2004 @ 00:05

    Shannon, I still don't think you get it.

    And that's actually great, because it underscores the problem that designers have. We've got to find a way to help people understand the function of design or we're never going to get better websites, software, or even home theater systems.

    Designers don't add a layer of paint, or even paint in lots of swirly textures or dots.

    Designers check the user's requirements and then make sure that the sidewalk, the plants and the fence all make the house look appropriately formal or casual. While they're at it, they make sure that none of this interferes with the visibility of the house number from the street, the ability to walk two abreast up the path with one person in high heels, and that there's a balance of lighting to make it at once safe and secure and not blindingly unpleasant to the neighbors.

    It's not the paint, it's not the functionality. It's the livability and (part of the) usability.

    Getting away from the garden example for a moment (but only for a moment, because I'm planning to rework my front yard this year), we had a designer create our new datasheets. One of the considerations was that we usually email them.

    The resulting design was landscape, which displays nicely on a 17" monitor. It avoided any subtle color blends that don't work well on-screen. There were another dozen decisions which all improve the suitability of the PDF for its intended use and audience.

    This links to one of our PDF datasheets:

  5. 5/8

    The Man in Blue commented on 15 April 2004 @ 00:38

    Ahhhh ... you should try designing printable order forms that go through our fax at work. It turns everything into a two tone impressionistic masterpiece, so you have to max out the contrast, have large font sizes, keep the fanciness to a minimum and *still* fit on the forty five new products that the sales department insists "absolutely have to be there!"

    It pains me when I have to make one of the forms, almost as much as online forms do, but I think my latest iteration achieves a nice balance between presentability and usability.

  6. 6/8

    Shannon J Hager commented on 16 April 2004 @ 13:13

    I guess you are reading me wrong, Mike. If you think what I said in any way contradicts anything you said, then you didn't understand me at all.

    You basically fleshed out exactly what I was trying to describe as the goal we would like to reach.

  7. 7/8

    Mike Combs commented on 16 April 2004 @ 13:31

    Yeah, I missed it. Sorry.

    What we need is a nice two page summary of the role each of these elements, including design, plays in constructing a web solution. Something you could put in front of a customer as a "guide to selecting a web design firm".

  8. 8/8

    Shannon J Hager commented on 22 April 2004 @ 12:02

    Maybe this would help:

    a recent study that claims a direct correlation between design and business performance.

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