Design as Art

When I was on a solo portion of a road trip in Iceland I absorbed a few books on my reading list, one of which was Amanda Palmer’s, “The Art of Asking.” She read from a keynote address she wrote in 2013,

do you remember when, as a kid, being outside on a field trip, perhaps even in a literal field, let’s say, on a day-long journey with teachers and students, outside of the usual rhythms of school life and recess and familiar spaces – and you found yourself straying from the topics and the tasks at hand?
and you made discoveries.
and connections, wandering off with your own imagination.

and you were excited with your discoveries of the moment, in a new space, and maybe you held them up proudly saying:

did you ever notice that
looks like

the shapes on this leaf look like the cracks in this puddle of ice, look like the veins on the back of my hand, look like the pattern on the back of her sweater…

connecting the dots between things.
maybe you thought it.
maybe you had the impulse to say it out loud.

and if you said it, you may have been encouraged. you may have delighted and amused those around you.

or you may have been discouraged.

you may have been told, calmly: this is not the time for that.
today isn’t “looking for patterns” day!
today is science day.
this is the time for collecting data.

Amanda goes on to define an artist as someone who connects things and wants to share them. If your experience of life was anything like mine (or hers), you were pushed from a young age to connect less and to collect more data. More data. Always more data. Today Is Science Day.

Everyone connects differently. And those connections are infused with their collections and over the years, they eventually form the basis for your truths. I design according to my truths, and you to yours.

What’s interesting to me is how vastly different everyone connects and collects. Put the same problem in front of multiple designers and they all see the problem a little differently. They ask why differently, their processes may be different and they could ultimately, all end up with a different solution. This doesn’t necessarily mean any of them are wrong, though.

From Vignelli to Mau to Ives, many famous Designers have developed very clear and identifiable styles. As they get older, they will explain it was the right way but we all know there is no right way. There is their way and they collected people who agreed with them. Their output is an expression of themselves. The solution is not divorced from it’s creator. I understand their values, and if my values align with theirs, they have made an emotional connection with me.

No one likes to put UX design in the same category as art. As an industry we’ve spent years screaming to whoever would listen about how design is definitely not art, it’s problem-solving, and a job, and we can measure it, and design can be objective. I understand the resistance. You can’t explain some decisions which makes it hard to gain acceptance from others.

All that aside, I occasionally worry if in the quest to justify our work that we’re losing out on something which is beautiful (possibly innovative) because it’s less measurable. Is a clear vision not what people speak to when they put such products on pedestals and marvel at how different they are? What if vision was an expression?

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