a long read
“When the purpose of your life is unknown, the abuse of it is inevitable”
The creative ability is a defining mark distinguishing human beings from our surroundings. A creative capacity not limited to works drawn on a canvas, but encompassing all the various problem solving capabilities we bear. Looking back at human history, this creative power can be seen taking hold of our world with each invention and process thought into existence.
However, this ongoing cycle of pursuing a dominating vision, seeking a malleable space and exercising our transformative power is truly vicious in nature, as evidenced by the toll it is taking on planet earth. Unless restrained, humans tend to break sacred balances, taking without reserve and forcefully altering a world that does not require correction. Many like to call this act of consuming land and digesting it into something we can work with, progressive and developing. But by looking at the state of our world today, the irony can be quickly found within truly calling the global human footprint a step forward.
Creativity, like any skill or tool, is an indifferent gear turning in unison with many others, driven by a compelling power source guided by a moral steering wheel. This truth makes for polar realities where creativity can be the cornerstone of a weapon destined to destroy, or part of the solution for world peace. It is not the part but the purpose that dictates the final product.
I begin with creativity because it is the supporting platform that underpins the ability to design, like a shelf holding up a book. Paving the way to my core message, it is important to realize that I paint creativity in such a dim light to make a point. A point that today, human creativity has the tools to propel us into a bright future, however this sense is actively corroding away, becoming corrosive in nature as we continue to wield it. Seeing that design rests on creativity, any issues affecting creativity will eventually permeate into design. There is a clear link between creative capacity and design quality, poor or misguided creativity makes for bad and counterproductive designs.
The deterioration of creativity can be credited to the current creative climate and sense of widespread complacency today. This is the problem; the way that money and personal biases hinder feats to push limits and find creative ways to live in unison with nature. A bright future is impossible without creative solutions and to make matters worse, there are real life implications when creativity is not appreciated. Trampling creativity automatically endorses the idea that creativity is not worth anything, and by way of the shelf analogy we underappreciated and misunderstand the value of good design. This is the theme of this entry, design and what it means for something to be designed.
Design conveys intention, intention signifies purpose and purpose can be derived from design. A car blueprint shows someone wants a car, this need for a car complements the necessity of transportation and the ability to transport can be identified within the blueprints. See for yourself what other creations follow this design triangle. Having seen the place of design in the bigger picture, let us go a step deeper and identify good and bad design.
Given the discussed creative climate, bad design is everywhere. How many times have you pushed a pull door, had to turn on and off 5 light switches just to get to the right one and what about that feeling of helplessness when your computer tells you what is wrong but not how to fix it. These are all poorly designed elements among the sea of available examples.
The reason for poor design is simply because good design comes at a financial risk. The initial investment is always more, the early returns are consistently low and the potential to earn everything back from a long lasting life cycle is often overlooked. With competition more fierce than ever, it is not enough that something will eventually be profitable but, that it must be immediately profitable. This is where we begin to see the corroding creative climate. You see once one company decides to give less for more, other companies must follow suit to remain competitive. This shift in priorities creates a design culture informed by money and not the users needs.
There is a circulating tale told about Henry Ford, the man who invented an assembly line method capable of producing affordable vehicles. His goal was to make his products affordable at any cost, leaving every other aspect of the car secondary to that goal. It is said that he made requests to local junk yards asking them to send him his grounded cars. Once in his hands, he assembled a team of engineers to assess the cars and find out what parts still work. Once found, he had the parts re-engineered to be cheaper and breakdown sooner along with the rest of the car, in an attempt to meet the goal of affordability. This is an example of misguided creativity that in the end fuels unhealthy competition and pollutes our environment.
Now, the signature of good design is the experience it delivers to the user. Good design can only be felt. Though important, no list of features or even enticing price tag will replace the experience a product can promise and deliver. An all to familiar example is the Apple product line, even with inferior features and high prices they still succeed because the design team realized that what really sells is the experience, not the hardware.
What then is this experience? Simply put, it is the fluid, seamless transition between a thought and its fulfilling action. The smaller the bridge needed to be crossed, the more satisfying the met desire feels. At its core that is all good design is, a frictionless medium connecting you to what you want. Whether the need is checking an email, getting directions or queuing your favorite song, the process must be intuitive to ensure an optimal user experience.
The three pillars of design are as follows: affordances, signifiers and feedback. Affordances are the features of the object, what it can or cannot do. While it is important to have these features, it means nothing if the user does not know they exist, hence signifiers. A signifier alerts the user of the affordances, this can be done implicitly or explicitly. The final and most important part is the feedback, the assurance that what you wanted to happen has happened. It gives the user, useful information for the next action or closure if there are no more actions to be taken. Summarized, good design has affordances that are all discoverable via signifiers and responds to the user via feedback.
The Pinnacle of Design
Now talking about good design can only do so much, I really want to do the practice of good design justice by applying everything I have talked about to the single most impressive example of design available to us. This creation is robust and flexible, able to adapt in response to any demand put on it. Burning only renewable sources of energy, made solely from recycled materials and 100% recyclable, it qualifies as creative work completely in tune with the natural frequency of things. This unmatched phenomenon is, the human body.
We are designed in such an all encompassing way that takes into account everything we will ever need. Given the space it occupies, the body offers much more for less, and the users needs are clearly the driving force behind everything. The signature of good design is etched into the very body we control as it makes possible countless experiences. From emotions and feelings to various physical stimuli, the body tethers us to the physical, granting us the ability to fully experience it. The experience is so polished we coined the term involuntary actions, where the thoughts/desires we feel are instantaneously met it is as if they never existed. The affordances are countless, each intuitively made known with subtle signifiers and the feedback is both informative and rewarding. Another fascinating point to consider is that this is a design that can design, a creation that has the ability to create, this adds a whole new layer of appreciation to our design.
Now here is the sad outcome of trampling creativity and good design. People do not see the value in understanding human design for the sake of using the human body correctly. Seeing that it can move, eat, drink, and sleep is a shallow understanding some people are satisfied with. This simplified view leads to the user neglecting the body, forcing it to do what it was never meant to do. How many times have we gone without sleep, filled our bodies with harmful substances or left our minds open to malicious ideas? This is the same as riding a bike while wildly revving the switch gear handlebars or driving a car without engine oil, in both scenarios things will run as they should but for how long? The bike chains will eventually pop off or the mechanism will fail, while the car engine will gradually overheat and grind to a halt. Another mark of superior design is its ability to handle error, but how long do we plan on testing how much we can get away with? Does the alarming number of mental and physical health issues on a continual climb not alarm us that something is wrong? It is naive to think we can bully our bodies to accommodate our unchecked desires.
To be human is to be creative, some more than others of course, but our blueprint grants that ability to everyone. It is our way of expressing ourselves, reflecting and sharing life experiences brought about by our bodies. Our amazing bodies should mirror the type of technology we create, non-intrusive. Unlike Ford’s cars, we are not designed to be cheap or good enough, but exemplary and able to fulfill our wildest dreams. Given our amazing bodies, it is only right we spend time reading our own blueprints to see how to live life as best we can. Your health is not a joke. Although in the moment we feel fine, remember that we are not here for the moment but for the whole ride. Invest in yourself.
So now in an effort to keep the conversation going, apply the design triangle to human beings. What intent does our blueprint convey, what purpose does said intent signify and how does our purpose compliment our blueprint?
~ A Source of Inspiration: Ben