The purpose of design (elements)

Last night I saw this on the Google+ Graphic Design community I belong to:

“What do you consider to be good #graphicdesign elements?”

Sigh.

Here’s why this is a silly question. A good graphic design element is one that fulfills its intended purpose. Design doesn’t exist in a vacuum – and certainly design elements don’t. Its like asking me what kind of chair I like when I don’t know if it should be an office chair, a dining room chair, or a living room chair. It is vague to the point of nonsensicality.

Typography is a good design element. Photography is a good design element. Illustration is a good design element. Anything is a good design element, as long as it serves its purpose. Does the design need type? OK, great. Will a photograph cement the message in the target audience’s brain? Fabulous, let’s use one.

The primary difference between art and design is that design exists for a reason which stands apart from its creator. Ray and Charles Eames, and Philippe Starck create(d) things that, when standing alone could be (and probably SHOULD be) considered art. Certainly when you see them at a museum or gallery they stand as lovely or thought-provoking aesthetic pieces. On the other hand, they were created to serve a purpose first. No one would suggest using an Eames lounge chair as a dining room chair – it wouldn’t serve that purpose well. And when I encountered a Starck designed toilet in someone’s house, I enjoyed the design of the thing, but what I enjoyed more at the time was that it did its job.

In design form should never trump function. If the later isn’t successful, the former is just about ego.

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