Why Design Rocks


Why Design Rocks...

I am not a great fan of Sting, but years ago I watched him in an interview (this was during the Police years) and one thing he said has stayed with me after all this time: the interviewer asked him why, seeing as he could play jazz quite well, he preferred rock. Sting said "Jazz is more laid back and relaxed. The artist has lots of elbow room to start, explore and develop a theme. He can work up to it. Whereas with rock, you don't have this luxury. If you're doing a solo, for example, you have to come in blazing from the word go and I find this very challenging." Or words to that effect...

At the time, this was to me a perfect explanation of why I liked rock so much and didn't care that much for jazz. However, thinking about it now, it is also a perfect explanation of why I became a designer instead of an artist. In fact, in many ways, the difference between jazz and rock is the difference between art and design.

Let me explain.

An artist, let's say a painter, has lots of elbow room to develop an idea, or a theme. He does this in his own time. Excluding certain special cases, there are usually no deadlines to speak of and, in fact, this process of trial-and-error experimentation is an essential and integral process, and, in the case of a successful artist, is a process which is observed and applauded, just like a succesful sax player is watched and applauded while he warms up to a theme, plays around with it and brings it to a conclusion.

A designer, on the other hand, doesn't have the luxury the artist has. Just like Sting says, the designer is under pressure to come in blazing from the first moment. The designer, unlike the artist, is hired for a specific reason: to express ideas of someone else in a medium of someone else's choosing and to be snappy about it!

I find this very challenging.

I am hired for a certain contract. The boss says: "This is the client, this is the product. We have two days to make up some comps and, pending approval, another week to do the whole site." As always, I get a sinking feeling. This is no place for a jazz player. Maybe I should have gone into something more simple, more relaxing, like Air Traffic Control. Clutching the brief to my chest, I make my way to my desk and sit down heavily...

Then, the rock guitarist takes over.

Of course, you can't really go in blazing from the word go and be immediately and totally original. Like all rock guitarists, you develop certain contingency plans, tried and tested methods which act as a kind of safety net, a concept totally alien to a jazz player who is seen as being more creative simply because he has more time to do his thing: "OK, the client doesn't disallow a black background and almost any saturated colour will look good on black but for god's sake don't overdo the red! Logo on the top left, horizontal content across the top, drill-downs on the left. Lots of menu options makes the site look busy so let's make the menu slide out of the way when not used. Uh-oh, no Flash allowed. Let's use animated gifs on the mouseovers to make the site look less static..." And so on...

Soon you are so lost in a private conversation which is taking place within yourself that you may even miss the actual point in time the design on the screen starts deviating from a slightly uneasy collection of pre-set forms and starts becoming unique. Within yourself you have started speaking your client's language but with your own grammar. You may have spent hours at the computer until you've reached this point, not talking to anyone, not doing anything else, all the while fooling yourself that you are under great pressure and you just have to sit there until something worthwhile comes out while actually you haven't talked with anyone or even so much as lifted your head because what you're actually experiencing is the excitement of the chase or maybe even a kind of Wonderland where graphic elements start talking to you and begin to express certain desires such as "I need a tiny little drop-shadow to make me a little more readable," or "the logo is making it hard to breathe in here, could you move me more to the right?" or even "I really feel naughty for being here as it is a slight breach of the corporate guidelines but the client may like it!"

You haven't so much as lifted your head because, at that moment in time, there is nothing else in the whole world that you would rather do or think about or even care about.

And this is why I like design and not art. Why I became a designer and not an artist. Don't get me wrong though, I don't thrive on pressure like so many people claim, I don't even particularly like it but the plain truth is that this pressure forces me into a "state" where concepts like time and (and even pressure) cease to exist. This is the kick I get out of being a designer, this is what floats my boat, this is what "sends" me...

I don't think that I could I could achieve such a state if I was an artist.