Defining terms: Design is not decoration

I’ve said this in the critiques in my design classes:

‘Are you a designer or a decorator?’

The distinction is a designer is a problem solver. In graphic design, a designer is a problem solving communicator. Graphic design is a communication field and the nuance in definition is what can separate novice from professional.


dwiggins and gd
The term ‘graphic design’ was first coined in 1920s by William Addison Dwiggins and it doesn’t really say what it is. At least not today. Graphic goes back to Latin, and was originally derived from the Greek graphe, translated as ‘writing or drawing.’

Today, graphic design is believed to have something to do with computer programming. It isn’t. Throw in that ‘graphic’ could be porn or a violent movie – our own industry’s defining moniker doesn’t communicate very well. Not today.

The newer terminology, visual communications means much more – but hasn’t caught on. As a term, graphic design sounds cool, so we still use it.

Graphic designers communicate – visually. And my litmus test for any classroom critique of design is the simple question, ‘Does it communicate?’

That’s a shortened form of ‘Does it communicate its intended message to its intended audience?’ Either way, the answer to the question drives student critiques.

being a good communicator
I have this take on graphic design today: Good graphic designers should know how to write, should know how to talk, should know how to explain themselves. And if they wish to use decoration, it should be done for a purpose.

For further reading, check out (Typekit guru) Jeffrey Veen’s The Art & Science of Web Design, Jens O. Meiert’s blurg here as well as the introduction (which defines graphic design) in Patrick Cramsie’s The Story of Graphic Design. And if you haven’t, go back and watch my last post.

Good design has meaning, purpose, function. And if that function is to irritate, confuse and mislead. That’s part of the game too.

David Carson‘s infamous Zapf Dingbats-set article

2 Responses to “Defining terms: Design is not decoration”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by steve mehallo, andrea zagata. andrea zagata said: RT @beyondwordsblog: Are you a designer or a decorator? (via @mehallo) […]

  2. Okay I get it!

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