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Crapification of design

‘Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?’

‘Flat design.’

It is ubiquitous, wherever you look. It has been less than a decade since computers have allowed almost everybody to commute into an apparently proficient designer, and all we came up with has been a bunch of rolled-over, colour-flavoured squares with some fancy typography stamped on it. Morpheo looks Neo in the eye, a quick sob escaping his heart: ‘What did we do wrong?’

The digital revolution was not meant to be like this. Cool people such as Isaac Asimov predicted a pretty different version of an age in which any kid could learn anything from an amazing and friendly teacher-computer.

But we came up with this: Justin Biever rules Twitter, sharing information is a crime and Dribbble happened to be a Bibbble. Hitherto, it seems fair to reconsider whether we are really going in the right direction, or if there ever was a single, monolythic One Direction.

Kids meet fire

Do not take me wrong: I do not even call myself a designer, despite it is what my co-workers call me. If it would be about skills, I am too multidisciplinary to not to be beaten by any of you. This is not about who designs better; I am asking about how to design better.

My feeling is that popularization of design led a “memeification” of certain design principles, which were deprived of their reason why. In other words, what used to be thought and proven rules became a series of reproducible aesthetic ideas. Same as with DNA, the more an idea is reproduced and re-reproduced from a previous copy, the more mutations it suffers, until most of the primitive reasons that originated what it was get lost in the process.

After all, our brains are lazy enough to copy certain things and to take them as granted; it saves a lot of energy!

It was surprising how quick Apple got scared about such a trans-neptunian, Cthulhulthian word as skeuomorphism. It took only one Steve Job less to lose the point and feel googlish. And Apple is the top-thing everybody eventually bites, copies, plagiarizes or tattoos on their kids face. Apple itself is a good example of this degradation of the original idea of a design.

We are not following criteria but trends. There are still only a few ones that worry about the rules underneath principles such as flat design. Dribble is the best example of this tradition of socially-accepted replication; instead of moving into personal styles or reasons to draw, most of the artists seem to convey with a general, expectable style. It sounds like a problem from the First World, but it is still important: design affects the way we interact and perceive, and therefore the way we think; bad designs may provoke future constrains or unwanted consequences.

Avoiding failing

We need criteria for good reasons. Trends are probabilistic, unpredictable and hard to fence —that is why you should be earning a lot of money if you are able to predict them—, while criteria is the best tool to face problems ad hoc. Criteria attempts to discern and scrutinize the reason why of every choice in a design. Criteria allows you to safely skip the so-called Principles because you know what you are doing is right. Criteria minds objectives and usually some of the variables that guarantee that a project succeeds: timing, resource-management, emotional intelligence, and so on. A lack of criteria puts in risk any project, because it sets arbitrary choices free to deliver arbitrary outcomes.

Criteria provides a framework in which you are conscious of the interactions in between form and function, and which of them you are emphasizing.

Valencia’s poster design skills shifted from world-trendy prints into user-lever PowerPoint presentations. This is what happens if you let too many Comic Sans enthusiasts rule the planet. In this case it is even more idiotic, because the ugliest posters were supported with money comming from public funds.

Fortunately, criteria can be updated. Here are a few ideas that are, at least, a bit obvious:

  1. Get into a proactive mood and ask for the whys and hows that undermine and determine your choices.
  2. Read culture, no matter what its media is. You can watch, listen, taste, feel, smell or… Whatever you do, it is a good idea to analyze the parts and relations that those experiences host.
  3. Iterate over your designs until you feel like you really put yourself in question.
  4. Crave for feedback. Do not hesitate and ask for an opinion; test and twist your concepts with others; let people face your designs without previous explanation.
  5. Read. Read. Read.
  6. Practice meditation; you will learn to focus and be honest to yourself.

To put this in practice, I would like to comment on User Experience design, or UX —although some people is against this denomination. In order to think about the relations in between products or experiences and their users, it is necessary something more than intuition, good taste and good luck. Even with all that, we are still in the risk of falling in the crapification of design; in the lack of criteria and its subsequent tendency to memeification. But nevertheless, thinking about UX design simply raises questions regarding marketing, interaction design, user interface design, graphic design or usability testing; it is not as easy as copy&pasting common schemes.

I would conclude by saying that designing implies three basic factors to be taken into account:

  • Questioning of the fundamental reasons of a design (why, what, how).
  • Responsibility, because choices imply success or failure. Design should not be a solely-artistic activity, so who does it must agree that there will be relations between the author and the results.
  • Adequate proportion and relation between form and function in order to achieve a goal.


(Proofread by Liane Gaasendam)


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