Is Design Art?
Through my many years of being lucky enough to have a job that I truly enjoy, I have discovered the importance of experimental work and the role it plays in developing creative expression and sometimes problem solving for future projects. If you ask any working designer if they work on paid projects that let them truly stretch their artistic wings, most will answer no. A majority of the work we do has to be relevant to our client’s message and therefore most of the work has a very narrow margin for expressive creativity. Graphic design after all, is about effective communication rather than free artistic expression. This is the argument I hear from many seasoned professionals in our industry and I tend to agree with this statement to a certain degree. So to answer the question—Is design art? I would have to answer—maybe.
A Creative Outlet
Experimental work is important as part of our professional development and can be an effective outlet to lead to some interesting results which otherwise would not occur within the normal scope of a paid project. The creative process requires some type of motivation to set a designer on fire. A designer’s fuel is passion. Without it, the creative engine will stall.
All too often searching for inspiration through the work of other designers or artists may lead to duplicating concepts or techniques rather than pushing an idea beyond the original intent. I am reading all the time where designers are complaining about how other designers have duplicated their concepts through the practice of scouring the internet for visual references. Experimentation can be counter to this practice and usually most outcomes give rise to an effective tool for inspiration. When experimentation has no specified outcome or deadline, the pressure is off and many accidents may end up as something stellar.
The process I use follows a few basic guidelines that I try to stick with.
Move along, nothing to see! Move along! When developing something tangible from my eccentric and often obsessive random thoughts, I find that when I start from inside Adobe Illustrator®, I end up staring at a blank page until I am either distracted, or bored to death. This usually ends with me surfing the internet or reading email and heading way off of the originally intended path. I don’t use the computer as tool until I am ready to do the finished work and prepare for presentation.
2. Start with good ol’ pencil and paper
Old fashioned you say? You bet! I find that doodling out my thoughts with pencil to paper to be liberating. Scratching out lines or geometric shapes, unintended squiggles, and even text in No.2 graphite can lead to some great inspiration. One rule I always impose on myself during this exercise is to never erase anything. I will cover the complete sheet of paper with ideas until I run out of precious wood pulp real estate. So make sure you have plenty of paper.
3. The first idea isn’t always the best
Seeds take time to germinate. So should ideas. The practice of pushing an idea to almost the absurd can lead to many new discoveries. Some of which you had never considered when you initially started. I remember a project I once started that was supposed to be a racehorse and ended up becoming a zebra composed of lightning bolts. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and push ideas beyond your core of experience. Seeing this evolution on paper can be very inspiring and will spawn many new ideas and concepts beyond your original intention.
4. Share and seek out collaboration
Sharing is interacting. One form of experimental work I have been involved in was to participate as a part of a creative group. One group I enjoyed in particular was the HOWiezine Project. This project started back in the good old days of website forums, namely the HOW Design forum. The objective was to create a page within a specified template and around a single word or topic. The first “zine” I participated in was Pirates. There are many other groups or sites that offer this type of outlet.
Here are just a few I participate in:
5. Stretch your wings and fly
It’s okay to fly high, just don’t get too close to the sun. I think the most rewarding part of doing experimental work is seeing the finished product in action. Many of the pieces I have composed over time have led to recognition in one form or another. Other works have brought out some not so constructive critique. One thing I have to keep in mind when presenting my work is to keep my ego in check. Experimental work can be quite a bit more expressive than the graphic design work we do professionally. It’s hard to not let your passion cloud your judgment of others responding to your work. By keeping a level head, you will be doing yourself a service and will flourish among your peers and professional colleagues.
So get out there and break the sound barrier with that idea you’ve kept bottled up for forever. I’m sure the experimental piece you come up with will be stellar! And please, share it with me. I would love to see what you come up with.