August 21, 2009

The Effect of Style in Design

Style, as I define it, is the reoccurrence of elements from one piece of work to the next. Style should reflect the designer and his/her experience. Rather, style commonly tends to be a recycling of major parts. I said "elements" before for a reason. For graphic design; reusing a good font, color, or grid is fine. For character design; reusing the same body shapes, hand models and mouths over and over is fine. For background design; reusing the same technique for making trees, shrubs, plants, rocky textures, foliage, buildings is fine. But... I wonder if applying the same formula to everything is really design? Think about it like this: If everything you did looked and worked as if cast from the same mold, how would you evolve? Experimentation is a big part of design (at least for some). Doing the same thing over and over has to have a negative effect on lexploration, because, well, you aren't exploring.

Alow me an analogy. A young carpenter builds a house. It is a great house and people like it. Soon, others want a house just like it. Different knobs, faucets and tile, but the exact same house. After some time, the carpenter has built hundreds of these houses and has grown very efficient in doing so. He can now build one in half the time as the first one took. So, is he a great carpenter? What if someone approached him to build a completely new house. Could he do it?

Designers need to evolve to survive just like anything else. There is always merit in figuring something out. I think this is what design is all about. The challenge is doing it the first time, not the 10th time. Once you find

With that said, I also wish to take issue with the client side of design. How does style effect client work. It is easy for most designers to do a great site for their own firm.
But, can they do it for their clients? I see a lot a great self-promotion sites with awe-inspiring designs, but I see plenty with very substandard portfolios also. I think, and I could be wrong, but I think that this happens because the client doesn't want the "carbon copy house", they want the "new house". And the "carpenter" can't build it. The usual response to this is an attempt to put the client down at a lower level. You call them stupid and talk of how bad their taste is while you sit suffering through their project anyway. You wind up getting your cheque and you add their substandard compromise to your already average portfolio.

Most television animation producers want the most refined, consistent, safe, appropriate, rigid, cautious, and clean design style possible for animated cartoon characters. It's part of the process, continuity of the character's structure, volume, clothing, and visual design style must remain functional, practical, and easily re-produce-able. John K flies in the face of this convention with his wackier, more exaggerated style (though you'll never get him to admit that he actually has a "style").

Study art books that focus on whatever medium you're going for. Pixar's "Art of"
books set a fantastic standard for character and environment design. Work hard at making your own personal design style, to force it to evolve, experiment, research, and when it all comes together, call it done and try something else.

Take a lesson from music. Popular music is trend. But there are artists who surpass this, who stay around over time. Why? Because some artists have been in a perpetual state of reinvention since their first song. No one wants to hear the same thing from the same person forever. Design is no different. substandard portfolio. And I ask you, couldn't this have been avoided if you approached the problem in a way unique to the client and their individual problems? In these cases, what I find most ironic is that the client will strip away the style from you, thus removing the only resemblance of the designer at all. Set trends then abandon them. Reuse elements that work, but don't overdo it. You can shear a sheep many times but skin it only once.

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