Hello world, my name is Vince and you’ve stumbled onto my blog. I must admit I’m not a very bloggy kinda guy, but I have way too much stuff going on in my head to keep it secret forever.
I just graduated college last month and figured now its time to start my life of creation. So let me begin this blog with one of my last homework assignments ever: an essay on what I think Design is.
What is Design?
In order to begin to explain what design is, one must take a peek into the psychology of the human animal. After all, isn’t that the where the root of all design need is hidden? The need for the world around us to be more readily available, to conform to our will, to bend around the very illusions that make up our daily consciousness. The human animal wants to be free of discomfort. It wants the easy route. It wants to conserve energy and time. It wants to lean back in its recliner, sip a Portland micro brew and ponder the human spirit: watch a movie, listen to music, spend time in the company of friends. In order for these things to happen problems must be solved. How can we make A equal to B? This requires systems to be implemented. This is where design comes in. Design is the purposeful creation of a system of elements that are related to one another in the context of what the system sets out to accomplish.
In her book Game Design Workshop, Tracy Fullerton defines systems as “… a set of interacting elements that form an integrated whole with a common goal or purpose,” (p.111) referencing the work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a biologist in 1940’s who first suggested that systems affect a wide range of disciplines.
Let’s take a look at games. They are undoubtedly painstakingly designed (though you wouldn’t know it of some of the filth that comes out these days). Their purpose is to entertain us, to teach us, to provide a platform of self expression. Games are nothing but systems. Tracy Fullerton explains “At the heart of every game is a set of formal elements that, as we have seen when set in motion create a dynamic experience in which the players engage.” (p.111) A good example would be the game of Chess. It’s system elements are the board, the pieces, the players and the rules. They all come together and affect one another in just the perfect way so that you get a game that has lasted throughout the centuries.
What about print? There is an entire discipline of study called “graphic design,” therefore we can deduce that things like concert posters are an example of design at work. But how can a concert poster be a system? First let’s ask what is the purpose of a poster: to grab your attention, and then inform you of something. The formal elements within this system are line, shape, color, value and texture – something you would have learned in any intro 2D design class. These elements work together to guide your eye to the information. They work together to give you the desired feeling the designer intended, whether it be fear, anger, or curiosity, etc. Maybe the intent is to stir you into action, such as going to a concert.
We can even think of a piece of clothing as a system and apparel design as the creation of such systems. Silhouette, color, length, and material are some of the formal elements. The functions could be to keep warm, keep cool, impress, raise confidence, make a statement, arouse, or otherwise prevent from being naked.
Another area of design that shares some of apparel design’s working formal elements is product design. Silhouette, color, shape, material, etc. are all formal elements related to one another within the context of the design that work together to achieve the designer’s intent; whether this be a certain feeling conveyed in the product’s use, or a new outlook on the larger scope of product design. Perhaps it isn’t that deep; maybe it’s to simply make a cooler looking stapler than the rest.
One could even make the argument that pieces of literary fiction are systems and thus can be designed. Randy Ingermanson explains on his website that “Good fiction doesn’t just happen, it is designed…–you start small, then build stuff up until it looks like a story.” In fiction writing, there are things called the “elements of fiction”. These including character, plot, setting, conflict mood, theme, etc. They all work together to give the reader the desired experience. Other elements could also be included in the formula such as the typography of the book, the cover, and any pictures within.
Design can even go a step-or multiple steps- further if you think of design as systems nestled within systems –”systemception.” An easy example of this would be an iPad. The device itself is a system composed of its shape, its color, the material it’s made of, and any buttons or jacks placed on the outside. The minimalist design of this object was designed so as to focus the user’s attention on its true function: allow people to interact with its internal systems. You might call these apps, programs, etc. Each one of these apps were designed and are systems within themselves within the confines of the iPad.
But systemception isn’t limited to just computer technology. Fashion can even be considered systems within a system. The patterns and designs on the textiles used in apparel design are systems themselves! Similar to the poster analogy above, they are a visual system designed to give the viewer a desired effect.
Games too are examples of systemception. The formal elements of game design; boundaries, players, procedures, rules, goals, etc can all contain systems within themselves. In a role playing computer game, level designs are systems designed within the game boundaries. Zones are systems designed within the level design, villages are systems within the zones, houses and their architecture are systems within the villages, etc, etc.
Design, and design-within -design is not just limited to material/third dimensional things and concepts; group dynamics can even be designed. Someone along the way designed how the military chain of command was going to work and how the all-too-similar corporate ladder works. There continues to be new and better innovations in system design in this regard with companies choosing to break away from the normal military way of organization and choosing instead to come up with new strategies to distribute responsibility.
Within these systems of group organization there can even be systems within systems. These are usually designated as “departments.” With companies like Boeing, there is an aeronautics department, a sales department, a manufacturing department, etc; each a system within itself with related elements that work together to serve a function. These departments are all elements within the larger system of the company itself, all with the purpose of churning out planes and new aeronautic technologies.
The same can be said of any given game production studio. They have an art department, engineering department, sound department, etc; all systems within a system that was designed with the soul intent of creating systems (designing games), whose working elements are systems within systems within systems within systems!
This leads us to the argument of art vs. design. If most design studios have an “art department” does that mean that art is separate from design? There are many designers out there who virulently proclaim they are not artists, but problem solvers. What about literature? What problem does a story attempt to solve? Perhaps a social one? To allow a reader to step into the shoes of someone they would normally have judged? There is no arguing that stories aren’t art, but if they are designed, does that make the designer an artist? Whoever designed the structure of the military surely wasn’t creating a piece of art. Perhaps the creation of art is just another problem to solve and at the same time can also be the solution to a problem.
In conclusion, the world around us: this system of physics and energy transfer, is a beautiful yet dangerous place that can nurture and demolish our fragile human bodies and minds. We as humans are also capable of nurturing and demolishing the world around us. In an attempt to climb Maslow’s pyramid, and make the world we live in a more tolerable place, systems have been created to carry out our wills (good and evil).These systems all have working parts that need to fit together, and they all serve a function. It is the role of the designer to come up with these systems—mechanical, aesthetic, social. It is the role of the good designer to ensure these systems harm neither our planet, nor each other. And it is the good designer’s role to influence the creation of future good design.