Decoration or Design

Thinking about all my years as a creative director and a photographer, design is embedded in me. I may not always succeed, but I know when it’s right and why. By definition, design means problem solving. Communicating an idea through visual means. Not to be confused with art. Art is self expression.

As a fan of Paul Rand, the legendary designer, I’m reminded of how he loathed the direction design had taken when the personal computer took the world by storm in the early 90’s.

Rand was teaching at Yale when he wrote several papers on this very topic. Young designers took to the new medium and began to explore it’s potential. The outset of that exploration was a lot of bad design, still happening today unfortunately. The principles were quickly forgotten in lieu of a filter that would produce “a cool effect”.

Design became less of a problem solving discipline and was turning into mere decoration. Colors, textures, swirls, mixtures of fonts, various sizes and weights… the list goes on. In a short time, trends would develop, and various filter effects and styles would come and go.

The designer was becoming a decorator. Little thought on how, why or for what purpose, just merely to choose a font or apply a filter, was good enough. Worst yet, clients bought it. Design standards lowered.

Paul Rand so eloquently expressed his displeasure with this new direction in a piece that I recommend all creatives should read:

Confusion and Chaos
http://www.paul-rand.com/index.php/site/thoughts_confusionChaos/

More about Paul Rand here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Rand

In recent years, I have re-invigorated my passion for photography. I have observed some parallels in photography with design. Brought about by the advances in computer technology today, things like high dynamic range (HDR), tilt shift, and pre-sets and filters to achieve painterly effects, are all employed.

I understand the need to explore and try new ways of self expression. But I can’t help feeling that we are entering the trap of becoming decorators again.

At what point is it art? I suppose if there’s a large enough audience that appreciates the aesthetics, you could call it art.

But, is it? I have some thoughts I’d like to share.

A good composition, to me, is far more important than any decoration or filter applied to it.

When the filter or effect becomes the dominant focal point, it detracts from the composition.

As for originality –

The French painter, Claude Monet invented a new style that was never done before. Called Impressionism, Monet was an original. No painter had ever expressed their work in this way before. However, despite his new technique, Monet’s compositions were spectacular.

Pablo Picasso used Cubism. Another original.

Georges Seurat was famous for Pointillism. His technique, composition and style are unmistakable.

These painters did something new. Not always liked by the masses at the time, but new and evocative.

All these painters developed forms of self expression we know as original art. But make no mistake, their compositions were exceptional.

That brings us to today. I find it hard to imagine what Georges Seurat would have thought of the Pointilist filter in Photoshop.

The styles and techniques were original. I suppose if someone creates a style or filter that is truly original for a particular photo application, that can be considered art.

Absolutely.

I’ve seen some astonishing work by some young, and original artists/photographers. Just visit the galleries in Chelsie, NYC, and you’ll see for yourself.

But one must be so careful not to get caught in trends, filters, effects, and and lose sight of overpowering a beautiful composition with mere decoration.

Go ahead and experiment, and explore. It’s fun and it’s how we discover new things.

Just remember what Paul Rand said about mere decoration.

Don’t let the effects over power. The original intent will be lost.

Cheers,
Ivan

Ivan Boden

I'm a designer and a photographer. I play well with others and I don't run with scissors. I know how to tie a fisherman's knot! And, I can pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time. I'm a Multitask er. I'm married to Julianne, who spins circles around me. I've got two daughters, who spin me in circles. Our dog Molly... she's a picky eater and sometimes sits and spins to itch her butt. And, there's Sock Puppet, the cat. Sometimes we call him Chicken, Little Eddie Munster or... Kitten.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *