Doing it the hard way - The value of art in design
Thomas Paine once wrote “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value” and I take great comfort in that. It’s February and I’m making the final adjustments to some pieces of our portfolio and remembering somewhat fondly the days, weeks and in one case, months that went into creating certain designs.
It’s hard to over-state the role the micro-processor plays in today’s design industry. Inspiration, content and the tools for creation are all available on a single machine. Some digital tools have become sophisticated enough to even synthesise and augment analogue techniques. Despite this, I believe there’s incredible value to dragging designers away from their computers to physically explore design briefs. Today I want to urge upon you the case for ‘doing it the hard way’ and using physical arts and techniques in graphic design. The hope is that more of us will lay down our mice (or charge them), take up the pencil, brush, nib, squeegee, chisel, gouge and make something! There are a few main reasons we continue to switch off and practice physical arts in our work…
To begin, originality.
As wonderful as our digital world of inspiration is, it’s hard to ignore the fact that we all look to the same few websites for influence. There are some problems with this approach. Firstly, it encourages designers to image search first and think later, which I would argue creates too many pre-conceptions and hinders free-thought. Secondly, the source of inspiration all being the same leads to a homogenised design culture void of character and distinction. Why not switch off the machine, put the phones to one side, gather yourselves in a room and let your unchained minds do their own thinking? Because, if it’s in your head already, it’s likely to be in the consumers’ minds too.
Next, the undeniable value of the ‘real’.
While technology continues to push outward into the infinite the mind still holds special reverence for the earthly. We still love practical effects in films despite CGI graphics being at a perpetual zenith technically speaking. I believe hand-made or analogue design work holds an indefinable x-factor in the mind of the viewer. Any designer who has had the difficult task of explaining what they do to their grandmother will understand the deflated looks received after conceding that, yes, it’s done on a computer. There is a respect and appreciation of physical processes and techniques that consumers, clients and grandmothers share.
Happiness among designers is an article for another day, looking back at the toil and time that goes into design work made the hard way my lasting feeling is one of joy and satisfaction. There’s pleasure to be found in facing the unknown, learning to paint, or sculpt, or even write (UKIYO had us writing poetry for marketing materials). It is a breeding ground of happy accidents, second-looks and deep thought. Art principles apply in the design sphere and can enrich it immensely.
There are more wonders lying in your own minds and hands than in the apathetic yawning maw of pinterest and designspiration I promise you, so go find them.
- James Taylor, 12th February 2019