How do we judge or interpret a good design?

We’re all surrounded on a daily basis by visual representations that we interpret in many different ways. Some we walk by without any needed effort to understanding their meaning, while others seek to invoke an emotional response in the brief seconds we afford them.

Over time, certain design principles have bounced back and forth from the forefront to the background as stylistic transformations have occurred within each generational movement.  Take the classic “form follows function” as an example.  This has been a design foundation to many designers over the years, but does it always hold true?  Could we say that the form of an iPhone follows its function?  Not so much. Does a digital camera form follow it’s function?  They’re still shaped based on a design that accommodated film rolls within.  Digital camera no longer require such a shape.  But yet its functionality is as loud as its form. When is it appropriate to follow certain rules and when does a design need to deviate from these hardened guidelines to better suite the needs of its intentions? Should a design be minimalist or complex in its presentation to its viewer?  Should designers focus on a functionalist approach or is there more to it than that?   What role does symbolism or iconography play in the design of a logo or other piece and should archetypes be so often revisited or should we seek new, innovative ideas?  So, what ultimately determines whether a design concept is successful or not?

Unfortunately there is no one simplistic answer to solve these creative dilemmas designers face every day.  Ask any designer and they’ll tell about the struggles they’ve encountered while working on a project with a client and how they found difficulty in seeing eye-to-eye when it came down to final artwork.  But ultimately, design is a cooperative effort of listening to ideas both from their point of initiation and throughout the design stages.  A good idea can mature into a great one as it moves through constructive critique.  The difficult part is recognizing this and acting on it.

Ultimately, a design should generate a desire, an emotional energy, a clear understanding and association to something – whether subtle or not.  Colors, shapes and how these elements interact will determine the success of a piece, but not due to their sheer presence, but how they are cooperatively intertwine to invoke a response.

A great design is not one that solves everything at once, but one that inherently solves the challenges of its intended audience as it and they mature over time.  Unintended audiences may not see it as successful, but the design itself should predict this. Individuality is often an underlying factor in how a design is created, whether corporate or private, and should be embraced as part of the process.

In the end, a design will serve to support an idea, a business strategy, an identity, a visual representation of a tightly wrapped emotional package that with the right trigger, would openly identify with something so simple as a visual aesthetic – a creative identity with a distinct purpose.  A narrative.  A story.

No, design is not simply the construction of shapes, lines and text, but how these elements are constructed to interact with their viewers.

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”- Henry Ford

Steve Muth
SCM Designs

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