Monday, July 03, 2006

Why Design Is Hard

Seth Godin pointed out this very interesting article about graphic design and context. I thought the article captured very well one of the reasons why graphic design is so tricky.

In contrast, when designing software you can often sketch a basic design on paper or in your head, and then validate it before implementing it or even adding details.

Is the design modular? Does the design build up useful abstractions? How about encapsulation? What can be changed about the implementation before the design breaks down? Is this design built up of known patterns? How about anti-patterns?

If you get satisfactory answers to questions like those above, you know it's safe to proceed.

But as the article explains, and my experience confirms, graphic design doesn't have this luxury. Why? The reason given in the article explains the need to validate a design in context.

One example given is that of choosing a font for a design. He had suggested using a generic sans-serif font. Of course his customers were disappointed. Yet, as he explained, the Chanel (as in Chanel No. 5) logo is made up just such a simple sans-serif font. The point is, in then context Chanel uses it, a plain sans-serif font works great.

The bottom line is that you can't evaluate a design until you see it in context. And you can't see it in context till you've implemented the design. In other words, you can't decide if a design is worth moving forward on until you've moved forward on it. Tricky, eh?

So, what can you do about this? The only two things I know to do are: (1) Setup an environment where it is easy and expected to try different designs - both from a technical and political perspective. (2) Have an expert designer on the case, so that she can use her experience to help rule out at least some design ideas that she knows won't work well.

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