NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

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Neshan 34


Design and Performance

Nejdeh Hovanessian

“The designer we have ordered to design our new packages is an eminent, gifted artist!”
Without a doubt, many professional designers have heard a similar sentence from a client. At first glance, it seems that such an expression creates value for both sides of the client-designer interaction. On one hand, the designer is pleased to be called an “artist” and is proud of the conferred title. On the other hand, the client believes that putting an “artist” in charge of a design in the last stage of their production chain will bring credit to their business. Although the design output might receive awards in prestigious design competitions, we see that in many circumstances the final impact on businesses do not match the client’s initial expectations. Designers must be integrated in the process from the beginning in order to create impact on a client’s business.
Describing designers as “artists” reflects an incomplete understanding of the design profession from both sides of the client and designer. One of the obvious negative implications is that designers may not be taken seriously by businesspeople. Clients assume that designers are distant from the business environment. Hence, designers may be simply viewed as temporary suppliers, rather than important partners in the business process. If clients wait to engage designers in decision making processes, i.e. until the last stages of the supply chain, they can only play a minor role in increasing the efficiency or performance of a product or message by “beautifying” and “giving form” to the product or message that the client or audience demands. As design thinking and branding expert Marty Neumeier notes: “Today we need a broader definition of design in which the key measurement is not styling, but performance.” Clients will not take designers seriously until they promote their work based on business success factors.
Preference for the term “artist” over the title “designer” is indicative of a low level of design literacy. The distinction between the two fields of “art” and “design” is evident for any professional designer. Artists work based on personal expression. They act according to personal interpretation, and the success of their work is determined by personal criteria. Meanwhile, designers are focused on a client and a final audience. They rely on existing information and their own intuitive perception; their work is based on systematic output. They design for people, not for themselves. “Without a client, the designer is an artist, pursuing exclusively individual work. A client makes a designer a designer by establishing requirements and constraints that a designer must address,” as David Holston, strategic design management expert, explains. In other words, the client is the reason for the designer’s existence.
The aforementioned misconception about design is nothing new and is in fact one of the main reasons why there have always been fruitless contradictions between “beauty” and “performance” or “form” and “function” during the one and a half century history of design specialty. One of the important issues of the initial specialized movements (which led to the creation of the design profession in the early 20th century) was dealing with the dilemma of whether “form follows function” or “function follows form.” However, what stands out in this unfinished discussion is the consistent presence of “function” along “form.”
When considering the primary origins of design, entitling the designer as “artist” might seem quite harmless. But in practice, such an approach leads to a sense of specialized alienation, a divergence of design from its main duty — creative solution seeking for the client — and a tendency towards mere formalism and beautification.
John Bielenberg, designpreneur and founder of Future Innovation Firm, explains the inclination of designers to rely on temporary styles and tendencies and personal preferences in this way: “Just like an addict creates a lust for drugs or alcohol, the designer develops a craving for the new, the visually compelling, and the beautiful. The image becomes an end in itself. The graphic language sometimes takes a dominant role over the message being communicated… graphic designers have developed a hyper literate visual sense and a highly refined appreciation for the craft of graphic design. I call it the intoxication of craft. … Conflict often exists when you combine the intoxication of craft, exposure to and interest in cutting-edge design with the engineering of a client-driven message to a client-defined audience.”
In fact, the roots of the establishment of the field of design in the late 19th and early 20th centuries can be traced back to the rise of the need for combining beauty and performance in the industry, technology, and business markets. In other words, design was a specialty which, based on its deep artistic origins, moved towards higher utility and a functional and efficient answer to the “needs” of its clients. The pioneers of this discipline each tried to establish the relation between form and function in their own way — that is, to make the efficient beautiful and to make the beautiful efficient. Accordingly, whenever the performance aspect is overlooked, the outcome of the process becomes more a work of art, rather than a design.
Richard Grefé, CEO of AIGA, the professional association for design, believes that once design was about form. Then, “content” in the shape of message or function was added to it and the designer became responsible for both. Today, however, design is about how a designer can deal with a problem considering the form, the content (message/function), and the “context” in which people have to face the solution over time.
One of the reasons design is more attended to in today’s world of business is its potential role in solving the numerous problems and issues of the business world; a phenomenon that is called “design thinking” today. According to Idris Mootee, famous design strategist: “Design thinking is a search for a magical balance between business and art; structure and chaos; intuition and logic; concept and execution; playfulness and formality; and control and empowerment.” Strictly speaking, design’s strong suit is maintaining a balance between beauty and performance or form and function: the ability to merge the world of creativity with that of logic...
One of the initiatives in recent decades which aims to emphasize the functional aspect of design is the Design Effectiveness Awards, which are held each year by the Design Business Association in the UK. Unlike the common approach of most design competitions, this annual event is rare in that the design process and its outputs are viewed not only from the specialized design perspective, but also from a business performance perspective. The presented work in different fields of design — such as industrial design, interior design, packaging design, social design, brand design, and communications design — are evaluated and analyzed by a jury composed of professional designers and managers in various business fields, such as marketing, branding, and CRM.
Perhaps today, the one and a half century long contradiction between “form” and “function” throughout the history of design could be concluded and claimed as: “Form and function both follow design!

Holston, D.(2011). The strategic designer: Tools and techniques for managing the design process. Cincinnati: How Books. Mootee, I. (2013). Design thinking for strategic innovation: What they can’t teach you at business or design school. Hoboken: Wiley.Neumeier, M. (2009). The designful company: How to build a culture of nonstop innovation. Berkeley: New Riders. Yang, Y. (Producer), & Tsai, M. M. (Director). (2012). Design & thinking: A documentary [DVD]. Muris Media.

Nejdeh Hovanessian

design, branding and innovation catalyst, is the first Iranian graduate of ‘Design Management’ from Brunel University of London. In 2010 he introduced the new field of ‘Design Thinking’ to the Iranian audience. It is more than eights years that he has focused his career on building brands. Currently, he is a founding member and managing director of ‘Articulate, branding, strategy and design’.

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