Similarities

We often think of newness as something that is created from nowhere–ex nihilo. When we hear about what’s the next biggest trend or product or service, we are led to believe it has to be something never thought up before and we are sadly disappointed that the newness of things is not that big of a deal. We have to understand that when thinking of new ideas, products, or services, instead of looking for differences, try looking at similarities.

Its the similarities that create the relationship that works for us as humans and consumers of new products or services. Designers use the term design semantics. An object has to say something about itself; say something about its larger context; and about the user who interacts with it.

Design semantics is communication through displays of information; graphic elements; shape and texture; and indications of internal state (e.g. battery life left, etc…). In short, a design has to convey what it does. For example, a car has to look like it functions as a car. With typography, the letters have to be readable as letters.

As designers, we have to operate under the premise that people are stupid and consider that when designing each aspect of your work. Don’t make people think too hard. If it takes more energy to interpret your design, then your user will go elsewhere.

Similarities lead to better design semantics and a better experience.

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Language

Design first and foremost is communication. It’s a language that is easy to learn but infinitely difficult in its execution (Note: just ask anyone who has taken my design courses at UCLAx). As a form of communication it differs immensely from our spoken language. Not only from its obvious use of the senses engaged, but also in its inherent structure.

Vocal languages commonly only stress one side of an interaction. For example, “A stone is hard” describes its properties. It doesn’t convey anything more than a simple one-sided tidbit of information. The structure is very simple–remember your grammar and you’ll understand.

Design is all about a visual language that describes not only a component’s properties but how other things interact with each component in the composition. Each component itself conveys its own set of properties as well as its visual relation to other things around it–the composition also conveys another level of meaning. If done with careful consideration for Composition, Components, and Concept, the visual language of design can communicate and spur more levels of communication long after its initial contact by the viewer. Design can speak to the soul.

So, when you see anything created by humanity, listen to what it conveys. You’d be surprised with the conversation.

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Force

Often when critiquing design work, both professionally and academically, we have an intuitive notion of whether it visually works or not. This initial gut reaction is what any Star Wars fan calls “The Force”. In the Star Wars movies, the force is this invisible energy that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds all things. This force is referenced in almost all cultures and civiliations.

I often think of “the Force” when I ponder visual design communication. Visual communication can only happen when there’s something to be viewed, a viewer, and a medium that conveys the two. This communication carries with it conveyances (packets of information). Any component and its arrangement (composition) carries meaning that is interpreted by the viewer. When both components and composition of the viewed resonate harmoniously with the viewer, the work is successful. The opposite is also true. If both components and composition don’t resonate with the viewer, the piece doesn’t work and a harsh reaction occurs. Like The Force, there’s no meaning until it reaches the viewer.

The Force (communication conveyances) can be manipulated by designers. Composition, in particular is a strong way to deal with this force. It’s a quick and easy way to create harmony or disharmony. So, composition is one of the first things I deal with when teaching new design students. When we can manipulate this strong aspect of design on many levels, we can control the viewer—a magical aspect of design. The power of arranging things is documented in the study of Feng Shui.

Often beginning designers don’t realize the power that can be harnessed with composition. And, I know which students have it and those that don’t. I guess that makes me a “Yoda” in the design world. Hmmm… I’ll take that.

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