Rian recently suggested separating visual design into a science and an art component, hierarchy and aesthetics, as a way to make clients more respectful of design decisions…
Visual Design is the odd one out in this equation. It walks the line between science and art so tightly that most stakeholders and clients only see the art part. So they look at a design, make a gut call, and think that it’s all just whatever style the designer fancied on that particular day.
Gleemie argues against a subjective aspect…
I don’t think visual designers are subjective. I think a good one is an astute cultural navigator and craftsperson deeply familiar with the reading practices of the cultures they’re designing for. And since culture slowly changes, visual design practices should change too. “Users change” is true, but they don’t change as quickly or independently as the client [Rain] writes about suggests.
I think she’s right.
Designers communicate by making a myriad of subtle interwoven decisions.
As Rian pointed out, there’s an interplay between science and art. Science helps us recognize and optimize for patterns1. Art helps us elicit a deep response that fills the spaces between optimization.
What Glemmie alluded to is a third factor at work: Empathy. It helps to expand upon art and science in a way that’s deeply meaningful to the intended audience.
Empathy is often overlooked—Especially in the engineer driven technology world of concrete, repeatable, perfections. It involves those desperately unquantifiable abstractions we call feelings2. It’s a gelatinous glob of understanding, experience, and context.
Yet empathy is the very thing that makes aesthetic decisions more than an arbitrarily resolved question influenced by taste and trend. More than something subjective.
Empathy elevates aesthetics. Merging sensitive understanding with visual language creates a direct line into the core of who you’re communicating with.
The combination of empathy and aesthetics is so powerful, that it’s the foundation from which the $300 billion dollar a year industry of manipulative and abusive advertising was built.
Designers don’t need to tighten a wall around aesthetics in order to get past subjective. Instead, we should be less fearful of celebrating the things we do that aren’t as quantifiable as others. Don’t allow the easy authority of science to bully you away from harder emotional and cultural decisions. Stop cluttering up your websites and resumes with faceless ROI data points and quotes from satisfied clients. Shift the focus to real individuals and the messy results of their experiences with the things you’ve created. Embrace aesthetics as an equal partner in a delicate balancing act. An act that requires the broad skills of a unique and talented designer to properly pull off.
Filed under: empathy