Can design be learned?

I’ve been seeing this discussion all over the internet—designers’ forums, mailing lists, blogs, articles, and what-have-you’s. I think it’s about time I give my own opinion about it. Besides, this blog’s been stagnant for months—it’s about time I write something on it.

A lot of people say design is art per se, but I beg to differ. Design, by definition,

…refers to the process of originating and developing a plan for a new object (machine, building, product, etc.).

Design, by itself, doesn’t necessarily have to have aesthetic value or emotional effect. So, per se, it’s not art. But for some reason that the design becomes beautiful (has perceived quality other than the purpose it serves), it can be considered an art. In my opinion, design can be art, but it doesn’t always follow that design is always art.

Getting that point clear brings me back to the question: can design be learned? Yes. Anybody can learn how to develop a plan for a certain object—he doesn’t need to be born with an artistic talent.

Let’s take a closer-to-home example: web design. After all, I am a web designer. Hehe.

You need to design a web site in order to post your thoughts. You can easily just install WordPress then put in something like Scott’s default Sandbox theme, no skins. You have a navigation bar, an area for posts, and a title with a tagline on top. No frills, just that. It does exactly as it was supposed to be—as it was designed. But would you call that art already? I think not.

But then, you start creating your own graphics and making your own CSS structure. You get more creative, and start using graphics as a way to convey your thoughts. You make your website look as if it’s conveying your very thoughts and emotions. When you’re sad, it’s gloomy. When you’re ecstatic, it’s sunny. That’s when it becomes an art: you go beyond the purpose and add quality to the work through creativity.

Can anybody make an “artistic” design? No. I really don’t think so. Sorry if this sounds condescending, but really, there are people who can’t make a design into a work of art. Although I don’t think it’s necessarily bad.

As my mom said, not everyone is born with the talent for the arts, but those without it is blessed with other talents that the artists aren’t good at. That is so true. I’m lucky to be born in an artistic family (both my parents are artists, so is my sister), but I can’t do calculus or any of those numeric things without bleeding my brains out. I can whip up artsy designs in less than a day, but I can never say the same for math 😛

If your web site design is important to you, which it should be since a good web designer can make a site that, through your web page design, can encourage return visitors, then learning web site design or hiring a good firm to do it for you is a worthwhile investment.

Designing for newspapers and the Web

I was invited to give a lecture on graphic design for a group of students from a nearby university. These students are actually members of their school paper’s graphic design team, so obviously, the focus of the talk was for print. However, they also wanted to know the main difference in web and newspaper design.

Although the difference of the medium used is pretty obvious (newspaper on paper, web design on the internet), the layout factor is where people usually make the mistake on. There are very few who try to use a made-for-web layout for a newspaper layout (my god, is there an idiot who does?). But the other way around, it’s not that uncommon.

Maybe it’s just sheer dumb luck, but the past few days I’ve been talking to clients who insist on using a newspaper-type of layout. Actually, even the students’ web version of their newspaper is practicing the very same mistake. I’m not talking about the “newspaper web version” here, but the newspaper layout printed on paper. Newspaper layout, as in, paragraphs on one column flowing to the next one beside it. Although this is easily accomplished using CSS, do you honestly think that your site’s readers will enjoy scrolling all the way down and then scrolling their browser up again just to read the continuation of the paragraph? Aside from it can be incredibly annoying, it’s irritating to the eyes too. Continue reading “Designing for newspapers and the Web”