27 July 2010

[design] The Dying Art Of Design?

A while back I read an article by Salem's Von Glischka titled Don't Be A Tooler. The article is chewy food for thought, and can be read at http://artbackwash.blogspot.com/2009/06/dont-be-tooler.html. It generated a ton of discussion and I contributed a conment, and still to this day get emailed the occasional reply to the thread.

The idea of a tooler, as I understood it then and understand it now, is the sort of person who is a able user of tools like Photoshop and such and thinks that some mastery of the standard digital design tools makes them a designer ... but along the way, they've avoided acquiring the soft skills a designer really needs to create ... how to see as an artist, how to view a graphic design assignment as more than a chance to produce something that has a surface look of everything else.

That's not to say that you can - or should, in some cases - fight popularity. Can't really be done. But it demonstrates a lack of depth that talent can't always make up for, resulting in forgettable designs that don't really distinguish themselves at all. Sure, you can use Photoshop like a pro - but can you draw? Von Glischka is renowned amongst designers for his artistic, illustrative approach to designing, and the extra depth that "old-fashioned" skill provides his work informs every piece I've ever seen him do with a sort if interior logic and harmony.

It's tough to explain and sound like "whalesong and joss-stick" talk, but you look at Von's work, and you see it instantly.

Free and Numerous Tutorials and Resources as a subsititute for design intellect?

The intarwebz have been a boon to me and to many people who want to learn a new technique or see how some other designer achieved a cool effect. If you get on enough design mailing lists or Twitter, you soon find you can't swing a virtual cat - dead or otherwise - without hitting a list of nifty, fun tutorials on how to achieve this, that, or the other effect, and free resources for the stuck designer. Your bookmarks file will soon be filled to bursting.

But, as mom always said, too much of a good isn't a good thing anymore. Francisco Inchausté, writing at Smashing Magazine, holds a view that harmonizes, in its way, with Von Glischka. I'd put it this way: the embarrassment of riches on the 'net today, instead of making us nimble designers, actually threatens to turn us into lazy, deriviative hacks:
Dependance on resources such as freebies and tutorials is turning our design industry into an assembly line that churns out the same exact piece, with perhaps slight variation. Design is not a commodity, but the more that designers use freebies and the like, the more it will become one. The Web is just a large copy machine, as Kevin Kelley puts it. Design seems to be going down this road, too. Even our information resources—the design blogs themselves—are clones of each other.
I think he has a point. It doesn't take a career with a ton of success to realize that if we all use the same resources we all start looking like the same designer. Moreover, it's too easy to begin to browse your library of tutorials like a pantry of ready-made design solutions. Then, you cross the line into Tooler territory, and you stop using your insight, substituting a sort of reactive thinking for actual design problem-solving.

The overall prescription seems to be, back away from the computer for a while. Get a real design book or magazine and spend some time reading. Sure, you're a Photoshop virtuoso or an Illustrator god, but even I've seen in myself what will happen when you depend on digital apps to do all your work - they become your brain (as I write this, I'm in a epic struggle to get my drawing chops back. My skills have reverted to, as far as I'm concerned, a shambolically bad level).

So, get out the sketchbook and pencil. Break out them old Walter Foster "how-to" books if you have to. You don't have to show anybody your new bad drawings, and when your skill returns, you can look back at teh awful and say to yourself "see how far I've come".

It's a hard road to travel.

Not only are digital apps easy to use and come up with awesome f/x ... they're fun!!! So, that's a hard habit to break. Expect withdrawals.

But we mustn't forget that design and art is, first, and foremost, a human thing, and requires all the good, old fashioned, human skill our hands are capable of if it's going to be solid.

For all his public life, recently-departed gonzo cartoonist John Callahan was a quadriplegic with limited use of his hands. He drew with them anyway. It took both his hands to do it, but his cartoons were visceral and real. If you, like me, have full use of both your hands, you can at least try. Your design might be better for it - anything with a solid foundation tends to endure.

The Smashing Magazine article is at http://m.smashingmagazine.com//2010/04/08/the-dying-art-of-design/. Yes, it was done on a computer. Just savor the irony, peoples.

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