When Designers Become Artists and Clients Waste Their Money

Deep down inside of every designer is an evil temptation which, if left unchecked, can mean hours of frustration and thousands (or even millions) of wasted dollars. The evil temptation, which may not sound so evil, is to create art.

Let me briefly explain my terminology. By "art" I mean those works embodied in painting, sculpture, music, etc. which are crafted to express an idea or feeling. By "design" I am referring to the process of creating something to serve a function for someone else, and "designers" are those who facilitate that process. Artists and designers are cousins to each other because they often employ the same talents, tools and techniques to serve their purpose. For this reason designers frequently come from the school of fine arts and deep down see themselves as artists, but this is where the seed of temptation is planted.

What happens when a client receives art from a designer? You get buildings that are incredibly beautiful, but are the subject of unending complaints by those who work or live in them. You get television commercials that are creative but leaving you asking what or who it was advertising. You get mobile phones that are the symbol of high fashion but cannot be held without losing reception. Is this a rare occurrence? No, it happens all the time! I've been there and done it, and I would bet most designers have at some point. In each case where this happens a designer gave into the temptation and forgot his or her first and foremost role, which is to serve the need of a client and user.

Does this mean that we should breed a generation of designers that don't care how things look and what message they convey? No! We already have have those people and they're called engineers (I know I'll get in trouble for saying that, but be honest with yourselves, you engineers out there, you don't stay up at night worried about whether something you've created looks bad). This is where opportunity arises for great design.

Great design is achieved when something not only is incredibly beautiful and communicative of feeling and ideas, but when it is incredibly effective at serving the purpose it was designed for. When modernists pass around the phrase "Form follows function" they're not suggesting there should be no appeal to the form, but that the function must come first! It will require much more work, but it will be all the more satisfying in the end for the effort.

So all you who hire designers, don't be distracted by the special effects; expect what you're paying for, but also recognize that it will not come easily. All you designers out there let's get our act together and stop giving into the temptation to create art, and usher in a new age of great design. It can be done and the world will be better for it.

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