The word “Design” has been applied to just about everything. Hair Design. Nail Design. Floral Design. Etc. Although there may be elements of design process in many of these fields, design as a profession can be differentiated from other related fields such as art, engineering, marketing, decoration and the like.
Design is a business strategy that focuses on increasing the perceived value of products and services by:
- Anticipating a users needs and desires
- Associating attributes and visual cues that add meaning and emotional relevance
- Approximating a final integration of attributes through prototyping and testing
Failing Your Way To Success
This last of these, approximating through prototyping, is the core activity of design. In this respect, design is a process of destruction creating value by successively approximating and eliminating options inappropriate to user satisfaction or constraints. As in science, there is an hypothesis, the basis of the ‘concept.’
But, rather than trying to create a solution that can be replicated by anyone, design is about experimenting with different approaches with the understanding that only one will survive. It is only through prototyping and review of the relative strengths and weaknesses of options, that a solution is defined. Designers, in this sense, are experimenting with what ‘could be’ to arrive at what ‘will be’ produced. Only through hundreds of failed prototypes or experiments does a successful solution emerge.
Just after I graduated college, I had the opportunity to visit Milton Glaser, one of the most prolific designers of his time. He had co-founded PushPin Studios (with Seymour Chwast) and New York Magazine (with Clay Felker) and created many iconic designs of 60’s, including the I “heart” NY logo and the psychedelic Bob Dylan poster. I was curious about how he did it. When I was ushered into his office, he was at his drawing board, a humble affair, not dissimilar from the one I used, perched on a stool like the one I used. Next to it was a trash can, just like the one I used. But there was a difference. It was 9:00 AM and his trash can was full.
His back was to the door, so I was able to watch the master for several minutes. What I had imagined was a process of inspired creation. What I saw was inspired destruction. He would sketch something, then throw it out. Then another. Throw it out. Clients probably would have been pleased with any of the options in the trash can, but the inspiration came after many phases of destruction.
Good design is built on a rather counter-intuitive principle. Rather than a process of ‘creating,’ most of what happens is destroyed. By making small or “successive” approximations to define the attributes and visual cues that add meaning and emotional relevancy, one moves from a point of uncertainty to greater certainty as to what is going to create more value for users within a set of constraints.