Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Design Guy, Episode 37, All the World's a Stage for Designers

Download Episode 37

Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply.

When beginning a new project, as much as is within your power to do so, choose the best of elements. You're going to be selecting type and image, among other things, and when you do, choose thoughtfully.

Think of this as as an audition. If you were to assemble a high-caliber theatrical production, you'd screen for the best talent. There would be a line of candidates waiting in the wings, fidgeting nervously, awaiting their turn to show you what they've got. And you'd stock your ensemble with just the right personalities for the roles they were to play. You'd want them all to be great and capable and hardworking and suited for the personality into which they are to breathe life.

But more than that, with an eye toward the ensemble you're putting together, you'd cast individuals who combine well, who coalesce into something...more. And now you're thinking chemistry, you're thinking alchemy, because you know that something magical and transcendent can happen when elements combine. Humphrey Bogart is great by himself, but put him together with Ingrid Bergman and something else is going on, something special. In the narrative arts, the craft term for this is orchestration. Elements are selected because they differ from or complement other elements. One character might be meant to serve as a foil to another. And so they act upon each other. And your job at this early, critical phase is to stage all the elements and action, keeping that broad picture in mind. How do the elements stand together? How do they combine? Is there good chemistry? What's the overall effect?

This analogy to actors and such is helpful because we sometimes view individual elements as just static things when, in reality, each one is charged with personality and with power. Each one is an active agent in the mix.

So, applying the analogy to design, what are we talking about?

Well, in the stage that is our design. In the theater of our composition, we do well to remember our audience. Think of it! There's an audience out there that will be responding to what we do, reacting to the world and ensemble that we put together. Dramatists intend their audience to laugh or cry or feel a sense of foreboding or perhaps be so terrified that they jump from their seats. They are out to provoke a reaction. And we designers share the same aspiration. We want our work to be evocative and to communicate feeling. Or as the ever-quotable Seth Godin has said, "Communication is the transfer of emotion."

So, let's say you're starting with your choice of type. Work hard to choose those typefaces. Give them thought. Like a casting call, you're looking for the right personalities. As an Anthony Hopkins or a Michael Caine are suited for mature, dignified, masculine performances, so also are classical typefaces like Garamond or Baskerville. And having filled that role, consider how these might combine with other elements. But be careful. There's likely a reason why Paris Hilton hasn't worked with Anthony Hopkins. And perhaps comic sans isn't fit to share the same stage with Sir Garamond. (I'm getting carried away.) But do look for interesting contrasts and complements and you'll start to get excited as the big picture develops. And if you're feeling it, then trust your instincts because they're a good, early indication that, when the curtain rises and your new design debuts, your audience will be feeling it, too.


oscar hdz said...

Great show!! Please a Videopodcast!

Oscar Hdz, México

Lightning said...

Hey Design Guy, I just wanted to say this is a fantastic podcast! I've looked forever trying to find a design podcast with real substance instead of just ongoing fluff chitchat. I am a web developer working on improving my design fundamentals and you communicate them brilliantly. Thanks!

Gustavo Vicenttini said...

Simply fantastic!!