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The inner workings of design, an intricate relationship to art and filmmaking

Although design and art have been borrowing from each other, they’re of contrasting nature inherently. This doesn’t mean a designer can’t practice art and vice versa. There are designers with workflows which are heavily influenced by artistic approaches.

DESIGN IS, ART IS NOT.

An artist is not mandated to solve a problem and their aim may be to shed light on a topic that’s been swept under the rug for quite some time. To the contrary, design is about creating a plan to address a problem concerning a target group and its output is measurable and adjustable. An artist’s goal is not necessarily boiled down to solving a problem and communicating it with others. An artist may want to only wander around and their artwork may be simply an endeavour stirred up by deep inward impulses.

In his article, Alex Trochut concisely recaps the differences between design and art.

Design is solving a problem. Art is raising a question.
Design is conclusive. Art is an open debate.
Design is being an actor and following a script. Art is writing and interpreting your own story.
Design is the mind looking for solutions. Art is the voice of the soul.
Design needs a collective acceptance. Art only needs an inner approval.
Design is an act of empathy. Art is an act of freedom.

DESIGN IS SIMILAR TO FILMMAKING

A great design feels like watching a well-crafted movie. Everything comes together to seamlessly lead you from one point of the story to the following one. As you advance through the story, you get to know the characters, environment, challenges, and tools. You grow empathy with the characters and follow them closely as they resolve tensions created earlier in the story.

Every actor and primary object — within the field of vision — play a justifiable role that contributes to the overall flow of the story. 1&1 checkout flow is a great example of a well-thought-out design. They’re so well tuned to the concerns and wishes of consumers that every button, tab, navigation, checkmark, text, and image play a role in the overall story.

Checkout page of the 1und1 company.
1und1 – checkout – An example of a well thought-out design.

An incomplete design work seems like a movie script which doesn’t thoroughly reflects upon the motives of the characters. As a result, you are part of scenes that feel irrelevant to the primary flow of the narrative. To give you an example in web design, this is like an upsell campaign popped up right after passing through the checkout gate.

A poorly designed checkout page.
An exemple of a poorly designed checkout page.

I often see designs that look confusing and suggest a clear lack of prioritization when it comes to decisions. I postulate that a design lacking clear navigation may reflect upon the fact that the design team didn’t do their full homework to understand the goals of the business or the needs of the target group to whom they’re offering the product.

TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL DESIGNER

Now we’ve discussed the differences between design, art and filmmaking, you may ask who’s a designer?

A designer is a researcher who not only investigates a problem and hypothesizes a solution. A designer is also capable of building the solution and study it afterwards. Basically, a designer is a communicator who unfolds a solution to a target group through a well-thought-out plan.

Let’s laser focus on the above definition and derive the skills that each designer must possess to become successful at his/her job.

1. YOU ARE AS GOOD AS YOUR TOOLS ARE

A great designer knows every tool in their toolbox. They don’t have so many tools because it could become confusing, fast. They use a few tools and they exactly know how each of them helps their workflow. Each designer’s secret sauce is their workflow. They have perfected it through a long series of trials and errors but they don’t stop here. They also frequently update their toolbox and improve their workflow to make sure that they always stay relevant.

2. YOU’RE A DETECTIVE

Having a detective/researcher mindset is crucial to becoming a successful designer. Throughout their career and on a daily basis, a designer gets to hear more NO than YES. Ignorant comments, personal biases, bad-tempered bosses are only a few amongst many reasons that a designer sees more blocks than breakthroughs. The ability to receive rejections but to stay focused on the mission is pivotal to the output of the work. A detective faces many blocks as well. They are good detectives because they don’t let the obstacles define them. Instead, they cunningly find their way out of the blocks and toward the right direction.

3. YOU ARE AN ACTOR

I see a workshop or ‘show & tell’ session as a moment to shine and act. People are 100% receptive towards messages if they’re entertained at the same time. Make them comfortable, smile often and sympathize with their stories. As a consequence, you’ll hear yes more often than no.

4. YOUR TARGET GROUP IS YOUR NORTH STAR

Every design decision must be derived from the refined knowledge gathered through the research phase on the target group. You must be able to defend every design decision based on how it contributes to resolving the tensions of the target group.

5. YOU ARE A GREAT COLLAGE MAKER

A great designer has a knack to trace the right pieces of evidence and put them together cohesively so it paints a clear picture of the situation. Otherwise, a product manager could do the job of a designer. The primary difference with a product manager is that a designer has a unique sense of style and knows what visual items work well together. In the world of music, a designer would be a producer.

About Bonanza Design

We like to hold a straight-up relationship with our clients and we make sure that we are on the same page when it comes to approaching a design project. There are clients who confuse art with design and overlook the fact that a great design is always a play between two extremes: style vs usability. Both need to be factored into the equation and one cannot live without the other.