When asked at uni, I used to say that I loved doing graphic design because it was the perfect blend of art and science. On the arty side you’ve got your sketching, illustration, photography and idea generation while on the science side there’s the typography, grids, CMYK, RGB and colour rules. Yep, I’d found a discipline that kept all of the grey matter occupied.
But my journey through design has taken me across the spectrum from painting on canvas in art at college to the other end measuring analytics and coding as a UX professional. It’s a journey my younger self would probably be surprised and maybe even disappointed at, after all we’re brought up to worship the visual brilliance of the artist/designer and it’s hard to get away from that love affair. But for me it’s just been a case of following the rabbit down the hole into something that is more rewarding. Here I delve into why…
Standing on the shoulder of giants
The arts don’t really advance. And this isn’t a criticism, it’s not their nature, not what they should be doing. The arts are for reflecting back on society and emotion, helping us come to terms with ourselves. Creativity should be an outburst born of necessity and desire. It’s about originality not about improvement. For example many band’s best albums are their first, despite the fact they’re probably better musicians later in their careers, it’s the real urgent stuff that means more. And for me there came a time when trying to come up with the next great idea became a bit frustrating: how much did it mean when you’d only have to start all over again with the next brief?
Science is all about building on top of work that has gone before, advances don’t happen without the complete body of work and understanding that has preceded it. The web is a fundamentally scientific invention, and at its heart is the idea of linking to and utilising others content. Standards, shareware and creative commons allow us to design and build quicker and faster than before, using the work of previous generations. If you need to solve a web-based problem, chances are someone’s already done it and with a bit of luck you can google it, grab their code and innovate on top of it.
This is probably my strong achievement impulse (it’s what motivates men apparently) and I do enjoy the constant tinkering to improve performance. I’m constantly measuring results and progress from self-improvement to the analytics of any site I’m involved in. The instant feedback of the web is a powerful thing and a hugely motivating factor. Yeah I may be barely progressing at all in the grander scheme of things but feeling like my project is constantly improving and heading in the right direction helps get me up in the morning.
I’m fascinated by what makes people tick and group behaviour (recently that has included an interest in modern dictatorship organisations from North Korea to Scientology). When you start delving into the world of UX you instantly find yourself hypothesising about why your users behave the way they do. It’s a bridge to whole other sciences and an understanding of the principles of psychology come into play. No longer be unsure why something works – there’s a whole field of research that can tell you why.
Stop arguing the subjective
Perhaps the best thing about a scientific approach to design is the tiresome hassle that is saved. By this I mean a lot less of those constant ‘Clients from hell’ style discussions over who’s right about whether your latest design ‘works’. A lot less time is spent working on a masterpiece only to have it thrown back in your face by a clueless client. Whilst in this world the wins are great, I found the losses can really grind you down.
Instead with the scientific approach you bring data into play. Arguments can be settled with the more objective ‘what do our stats say?’ or ‘lets test it’ or ‘lets knock a prototype up’. Far from being restrictive, with a scientific approach to design it frees you to try whatever you want with a lot less risk.
Reality over portfolio
Questions like ‘What designers do you like?’ or ‘Who’s your favourite?’ used to infuriate me. Totally missing the point of design to answer the brief and be the medium rather than the subject. At the science end you’re reading books about practices that have been proven and stand the test of time not this month’s flash in the pan trend. I’ve waffled on about this in a previous blog.