The perfect core of graphic design is simple, direct communication. Where this idea tends to breakdown is when marketing is also entered into the picture. With marketing one also needs to be novel and interesting in order to grab attention.
In an attempt to differentiate, designers will use new colors, shapes, fonts, images and animations. Communication can no longer be a binary message sent straight to the user, it is surrounded and subtly manipulated.
As I look out at the design landscape and marvel at the creativity I see, I often ask myself, “How did they think of that?” or more to the point, “Why can’t I think of something like that?”
Where I struggle is that my philosophy around design is to try and have a perfectly concrete function to every element in a work.
I feel as though there are some designers out there that view their craft as something akin to the creation of an amusement park, full of play and experimentation.
An interesting menu transition that doesn’t directly benefit usability is like a fun little ride. Tiny animations nestled throughout a site are like characters and games, all lending themselves to a sense of wonder and discovery as we “oh” and “ah” at their work.
My design thinking tends not to go down that road. If I was asked to design an amusement park, I would first focus on things like making sure the building materials were anti-bacterial and easily washable. I would want the signage for the rides to be consistent and easy to understand. And after that was all addressed I would start to focus on the attractions.
Perhaps I would be better suited to designing a grocery store. A store has a very distinct function, and it has some very specific requirements that need to be met. The aisles need to be organized in a logical fashion. Prices need to be clearly displayed, shelves ordered, checkout flow considered. There is still some small place for fun and whimsey, but the goal is to create something efficient and functional.
Many designers will exist somewhere inside these two extremes. Those that want to create explosive and colorful experiences, and those that want to build focused and efficient displays of content.
When it comes to enjoyment, a perfect relationship between function and object can’t always exist. There are cases where every element doesn’t have a well described purpose, but the overall feeling is what makes those extras bits non-essentially essential.
A roller coaster in the produce section makes as little sense as a deli counter in a haunted mansion. But colorful and friendly typography and an interactive product display can bring the right amount of balance to either situation.