posted by Matt Ward on Feb 4, 2010.
In this article, we are going to look at a myth that I feel is floating around in the design community. I am going to make an effort at debunking that myth, and by extension underline what I feel is the absolute most important tool of any designer. You don’t want to miss this one.
I believe that there is a perpetuated myth out there in the design community. That myth is that today, with the vast array of software options that are available to us, we can fill our OS X Docks or Start Menus with all kinds of “design” software. I’d like to suggest that this belief is fundamentally wrong, and allow this discussion to move us forward to the one design tool that you do absolutely need to be using.
First, back to the software.
Look at all the programs you are using. Find me one “design” program. Photoshop? Nope. That’s an imaging program for manipulating pixels and basic vector shapes. Illustrator? I don’t think so. It’s a vector program. InDesign or Quark might be closer, but they are layout applications. What about Dreamweaver? Coda? TextMate? All coding/developing tools. Flash is an animation program.
The list could go on and on, but as far as I have been able to tell, there is not a single program or piece of software out there on the market that is an actual a design application. All of the aforementioned programs can help you with design, but they do not encompass design itself.
My argument on this point is two-fold.
The Argument – Part 1
First, we can simply look at the variety of programs that we have already mentioned. We have imaging programs, vector programs, layout programs, coding programs. There are also 3D modeling programs, animation programs and drafting programs being used by designers of various sorts. All of these can be used in some aspect of design, but not a single one can be use for all aspects of design.
More often than not, a given project will require more than a single application. For a website design, I usually use at least Photoshop and Coda. I may also use Illustrator for some elements. For a magazine or book design, I would use InDesign for the layout and Photoshop to create most of the graphics. Again, I might make use of Illustrator to some degree.
For me, these programs are all just tools that contribute to the design process.
Alright, many of you are probably thinking that I am just arguing about semantics here. You’re right. I am arguing semantics. You may also be wondering what my point is. Call them design programs or call them something else, it doesn’t really matter as long as we know how to use them right?
It might not be that simple.
The Argument – Part 2
Which brings me to the second part of my argument. Design is not and can never be an automated process. It is function of the human mind, and a skill developed through study and practice. We may use various tools to help us create designs, but the actual design process itself does not happen in the computer. It happens in our minds. We make conscious decisions about how to arrange items, about type and colour, proportion and symmetry.
That is the essence of design. It can no more be captured, programmed or replicated into any software than other human qualities, such as love, faith or empathy. It is an intellectual exercise rather than a mechanized one, and that leads us to the heart of this article and the one, singular tool that you absolutely need to use for every single design project, no matter how small or how large.
That tool is your mind.
As I’ve already noted, design is about making choices. Good design is about making good choices. Great design is about making the right choices. And choice is never arbitrary. It doesn’t just happen. It is purposeful and intentional, informed by a lifetime (whatever the length) of knowledge and experience.
Choice is something that is performed with your mind, the very same mind that collects and stores all of that knowledge and experience. Your mind is also the tool that allows you to analyze project requirements, to critically assess those questions of typography and colour, to understand the rules of design and to make that bold decision to break them.
Without your mind, then, the latest version of the Creative Suite loaded onto your bright shiny 27” iMac is essentially as useless to you as it would be to a duck. Yes. That’s right – a duck.
So, if your mind is so important (and, obviously, I think it is), what have you done for it lately? A carpenter will take care to protect his tools. A painter will wash out his brushes. A master chef will make sure that his knives are always sharp. Too, often, though I fear that we neglect our minds.
You feed your body every day to help keep it strong, right? When was the last time you really fed your mind, specifically that part of your mind that drives your designs? When did you last take the time to read a book or dissected a great design to determine not only how it was created, but why it was created and what made it great? When was the last time you even sat down and worked through a tutorial?
These are tough questions for some of us.
Heck, these are tough questions for me. Let me be the first to admit that I’m not always the best at keeping my mind fed with fresh, meaningful design related information, and goodness knows that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve picked up some books, though, and am doing my best to carve out the time to actually sit down and read them! By the time I’ve turned the last pages, I can only hope that the words I have read have strengthened my design mind and helped make me a stronger practitioner of my craft.
Your RSS reader can be a valuable tool, too, but do be warned that not all of the information out there on the internet is really strong mind food. A lot of what you will find is like fast-food for your brain. It may taste wonderful and fill you up, but there’s no real nutrients, nothing that will help your mind to grow stronger.
I have nothing against this kind of content. If you’ll indulge me in the food metaphor for a little while longer, I have to say that I like that slice of pizza or that thick juicy burger as much as the next guy. I also recognize, however, that a steady diet of such food will eventually lead to a very unhealthy me, and possibly even an early grave.
I try to treat my mind in the same way. I can only fill it with so much fast, processed content before I need to get a hold on something fresh, stimulating and challenging that will actually help my mind – and my single most important tool as a designer – to grow.
To bring this article back to where we started, I think this is part of the real issue that I have with the concept of “design” software. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the programs and the applications themselves, but the act of grouping them together under this one, all encompassing umbrella can have a somewhat dangerous effect. By constantly discussing “design software” we flirt (though unintentionally) with a tendency to place too strong of an emphasis on the software itself and not enough emphasis on the mind that drives it.
With this in mind (pun intended), I suppose that it could be argued that the myth is not so much that there exists such a thing as design software (though I maintain that that is a myth), but rather that the software in question helps make the designer. This is where I think that the real danger lies, even if it is not affecting you specifically. I would boldly suggest that the very concept of “design software” at least implies that somehow the various programs that fall under this heading are going to transform their users into (better) designers.
Since this simply is not the case, the danger of the “design” software terminology is simply the danger of perpetuating an untruth. The only thing that can really make you a better designer is the grey matter located right there between your ears. Everything else is merely a tool to be utilized as an extension of your designer’s mind.
As a designer, it’s the one tool you simply cannot live without! So be sure to take care of it!
Okay, now it’s time for you to have your say. I feel that I may have opened a giant can of worms here, and I want to give you the opportunity to respond. I would bet some of you are thinking that I am making a mountain out of a molehill, as the expression goes. But I’m a language guy. Words are important to me. So let your voice be heard and leave a comment!Post A Comment
Also from Echo Enduring Media: