Friday, February 17, 2006

Good Design Does Not Impede The Message

One of my pet peeves is ambiguous language. These can be either made-up words we sometimes use, or words with different meanings poured into them. When we do this, we are no longer communicating.

For example, what really is "responsible design." I hear that a lot these days. It conjures up images of angry designers refusing to work for profit, or protesting something, or creating design to support some cause. But it really isn't clear what exactly is "responsible" about design. Is it responsible to do ad design for McDonald's because it provides so many job opportunities to the young and those without skills, and provides help to the disadvantaged through its charity work? Or is it irresponsible to design ads for McDonald's because they may cause people to become overweight or they seem to promote an unhealthy lifestyle and eating habits?

Again, is it responsible to advocate free speech through design, and "shock" design, even if it advocates hatred toward a race of people? Who makes the arbitration of these issues? What is it really? Who are we responsible to? Ourselves, other people, the rich, the poor, the middle-class, the white culture, the black culture, the left, the right, etc.? (And don't say everybody, because that is a big copout for the hard work of true understanding.)

I came across one designer that believed that the use of CDs and digital photography is more "environmentally-friendly" than film because film-processing uses chemicals that can cause pollution issues, and film is environmentally inefficient. Thus CDs, since they are made with natural ingredients such as sand, will have less impact on the environment. But CDs are made using petroleum-based materials, and CDs are not easy to destroy; so they often get dumped, not recycled.

Well, I don't want to get too far off track. But, the visual language of design, like the spoken and written language, can also get in the way of meaning, if not implemented correctly. That happens when the objectives are unclear, and the design becomes more about being pretty than meaningful. And the meaning is not in line with the intended message.

This is the 5th out of 11 articles discussing, in detail, each point in my philosophy of design. My philosophy is discussed in my previous post.

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