Another Rant — Different Category §

As I mentioned in a previous entry, A New Project, I rant a lot on this site, but those rants tend to fall into one of three categories, life, macintosh or geekery. You may have noticed that I feature four categories on this site, the fourth one being design; yet there is barely a mention of this category, let’s explore why.

Why Is the Category Here Anyway?

A couple of reasons actually, mostly because that area of interest/study/career choice interests me very much. In fact, I religiously read design web sites and blogs, you may have noticed the links featured in my sidebar are pretty much all design related. It seems to be the thing I am passionate about, the thing that I might actually want to do with my life. The holy grail that I have been seeking for the last 10 years of my life, if you will.

So that leaves a question, if I feel so passionately about the subject, why on earth do I write about it so little? It seems all the articles in my design category are just bullshit little snippits talking about the latest update to my website. Well, it doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case, it actually is the case.

Here’s the deal, I simply don’t know that much about it, therefore I write about it very little. I am studying up every day and I learn a lot from blogs produced by actual design people. Of which my favorites: Andrei Herasimchuk, John Gruber, Jeffrey Zeldman, Cameron Moll and the ever famous usability guru Jakob Neilsen.

The Ever Present: Design vs. Style

One thing I have learned, and which will assist me in turning this article into a rant for the category that is quite lacking in articles of that nature, is the incredible difference between design and style.

This is the most abundant question I hear when I tell people that I want to go into design: “Really? How does this look?” where “this” can refer to anything from one’s outfit, one’s shirt, a flyer or announcement, the color scheme of a passing billboard… anything. And while these superficial things are indeed part of design, it is not everything. When I go into a detailed explanation about the “this” that the one is referring to, and talk about things such as its function, all Hell breaks loose. Most people simply do not realize the actual definition and intricacies of design. In fact, most people confuse design with a word I’ve already mentioned, style.

Arguably one of the most widely accepted associations of the design field is the fashion designer. Arguably, if I tell people I want to go into design, they automatically assume fashion design, and this simply is not the case. I bring it up, however, because it provides an excellent analogy to explain my thoughts on the difference between design and style.

Tom Ford vs. Paul Frank

I have selected for this comparison what, in my opinion, are too opposing factors in fashion design. For the design side is Tom Ford, recently retired designer for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. What you see with Tom Ford’s designs is not just looks (style) but an eye for function and usability. Tom Ford is a designer. People don’t necessarily buy Gucci because of the brand, if that were the case there would be people running around in T–shirts with “Gucci” printed in brassy letters. People generally select clothing from Gucci, and others, based on two things: their look, of course, but not just by how the clothing itself looks, but how the clothing makes you look when you are wearing it. That is the function of fashion, to make you look good. Tom Ford designs clothing that accentuates this function, and therefore it is well designed.

Paul Frank, again this is all my opinion, is the opposite. While one might delight in the clothing created by Paul Frank, I myself have found myself liking some articles, it is not necessarily the function that is appealing. Paul Frank has created a character that is synonimous with his name, a monkey face. I am told that this monkey has a name, though I cannot recall what it is at this point, something French I believe. In any case, I perceive this fashion to be stylistic only. It serves no purpose other than to turn your body into a billboard for this French monkey. There is nothing really unique or functional about the T–shirt with the monkey on it, it simply demonstrates that you spent an inordinate amount of money on the said T–shirt, and want everyone to know it.

Interior Designer vs. Hair Stylist

How about this analogy? An interior designer uses design tools and techniques, not simply to make your home look good, but to improve its functionality. When you bring a designer into your house, they are not only looking at what colors should be brought out by the throw pillows on your sofa, and how that should correspond to the hues in your drapery; but they are also taking into account how the room will function. Interior designers use blueprints when they design a room. Why? Not because it’s easier to decide a color scheme this way (a style thing), but because they want to take in the entire layout (design, which includes usability and function). Would it make sense, for example, to put the sofa at a 90 degree angle to the television, when the entire goal of the sofa is to sit on it and watch TV? That would be a poor design decision, a decision based entirely on style and look rather than style and function.

The opposite of the interior designer, I think, is quite self explanatory. A hair stylist styles your hair. Bluntly said, you can read into it no further. They take your hair, and make it look nice. The only function your hair serves is to insulate your head from heat loss. Your body doesn’t care the color, length or shape of your hair. These things do not affect the function. (Granted if you shave your head that has some effect, but I somehow doubt this is ever the intention of going bald. “I shaved because I don’t lose enough heat!”)

The Long and Short of It

So there it is, my rant on design. I am passionate about the subject, and I think I just expressed that feeling to some small extent. At least now you understand why that is a category on this site. In any case, I am not interested in the design examples I have just pointed out, I merely use those as common place examples to demonstrate the distinct difference between a designer and a stylist. Design involves style, but most of all function and usability. The design I am interested in is in a graphic/technology nature. I love to design web sites, because it is the ultimate excercise in usability. Unlike creating software applications for a particular operating system, when you create a web site or application, you have to take into account thousands of variations in operating software, and most of all browsers. Web design is exciting and unique in that it is the only medium that requires you to use an end-user based application to access other applications. There is a great article about it over at daringfireball.net, in which he discusses this exact idea.

Plan on seeing a lot more come out of this site about design, especially because one of the other categories is Macintosh. It seems the two go hand in hand. I have to admit I am a little frustrated at this idea, simply because all through middle and high school I was way into computers, but elected not to go into the field because of Windows (yes, I blame Microsoft for this). I never realized the passion that I had for designing software and web media, because I used Windows for so long. The way I see it, Windows is not designed to promote creativity, the Macintosh, whether or not that be its intent, is. Simply weeks after getting my Mac the passion was triggered, and now here I am finally with direction and intent.

Relax, I’m not going to turn this rant into one about the Mac, but suffice it to say I hold an immense amount of respect for my computer, and yes I am aware that I probably sound insane. I’m really quite right in the head actually. And now I think I can finally graduate college with a goal and a plan. With the piece of paper I can use to actually do something productive and exciting with my life.

The end.

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