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 the other creatures that surround us. Our creative capacity is very deep and is not only limited to art but encompasses language, relationships, and even problem solving. Looking back at human history, this creative power can be seen taking hold of our world with each invention and vision thought into existence.
However this ongoing cycle of pursuing a malleable space and exercising our transformative power to create what we want, can quickly become vicious in nature as evidenced by the toll humanity is taking on planet earth. Unless restrained, humans tend to break sacred balances, taking without reserve and forcefully pushing the world in a direction it was never meant to go. Many call this act of consuming and digesting land progressive and developing, but by looking at the state of our world today, the irony can be quickly found within calling the global human footprint a step forward.
Creativity, similar to any skill or tool, is neither good or bad, these are descriptions that can only be applied to the one wielding it. Like an indifferent gear turning in unison with many others driven by a compelling power source, creativity can only be 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 put a lot of emphasis on creativity because I believe it is the supporting platform that carries the ability to design, like a shelf holding up a book collection. Human creativity is able to propel us into a bright future, however this sense is actively corroding away, becoming more and more corrosive in nature as we continue to miss-use 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, money and personal biases hinder attempts 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 nurtured and appreciated. Trampling creativity reduces its perceived value and utility, and by way of the shelf analogy, it becomes easy forfeiting the value of good design.
Design conveys intention, intention signifies purpose and purpose is the fuel that allows for motion. Now let’s apply this to an example. A need for transportation arises, creating a problem begging to be solved, a car blueprint surfaces with the purpose of being a solution and once built the car will function for transportation as intended. See for yourself what other creations follow this design path. Having seen the place of design in the bigger picture, let us go a step deeper and look at both good and bad design.
Given the discussed creative climate, bad design is everywhere. How many times have you pushed a pull door? what about turning on and off 5 light switches just to get to the right one? Or that feeling of helplessness when your computer gives you an error without telling you how to fix it. These are just a few poorly designed elements among the sea of available examples.
The reason for poor design is simply because good design comes at a financial risk. It is always cheaper and easier to copy paste a design and adjust it as needed. When you decided to start from scratch the initial investment of time and money is always more and the early rewards are consistently low, leading many people to overlook the often high long term returns. 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, when profit supersedes talent in the list of priorities. 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 creators or users needs.
There is a circulating story told about Henry Ford, the man who invented the assembly line method capable of producing affordable vehicles. His goal was to make his products affordable at any cost. It is said that he made requests to local junk yards to send him his decommissioned cars. Once in his hands, he assembled a team of engineers to assess the cars and find out what parts still worked. Once identified, he had the parts re-engineered to be cheaper and breakdown sooner along with the rest of the car in an attempt to create a cheaper car. Even though he reached his goal, this is an example of misguided creativity that in the end degrades the creative climate, fuels unhealthy competition and pollutes our environment.
Now, the signature of good design is the seamless 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 deliver. An all to familiar example is the Apple product line, even with inferior features and higher prices they still succeed because their philosophy is experience first, then all the bells and whistles second.
What then is this experience? I define it as the fluid, seamless transition between a thought and its fulfilling action. Consider this example. Say you want to light a room, which option delivers the most seamless experience?
- Finding a match, striking it and bringing the flame to a candle
- Walking across the room to the light switch and flicking the switch
- Using a voice command such as “light on”
As you can see the easier it is to manifest a thought, the more satisfying the entire process 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 and in tune with how our minds work to ensure an optimal user experience. As a side note for you to explore, do you foresee any issues with this level of integration between humans and technology?
The three pillars of good 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. The job of a signifier is to show the affordances. 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. To summarize, good design has affordances that are all discoverable via signifiers and responds to the user through clear feedback.
To be human is to be creative, this is a guarantee courtesy of our humanity. It is our way of expressing ourselves, self-reflection and sharing life experiences. This ability is closely linked with how we create new things. Unlike Ford’s method we should not aim for cheap or good enough, but wholistic and sustainable. Given our amazing abilities we should spend more time creating blueprints with the purpose of living life as best we can.
~ A Source of Inspiration: Ben