PART 5: THE FIFTH ESSENTIAL QUESTION EVERY DESIGNER
SHOULD BE ABLE TO ANSWER:
How Do I Know When My Design Is Finished?
In order to make better artistic and design choices, the Fluent and Empowered Designer should have answers to 5 essential questions. In this article, I present the fifth and last essential question: How Do I Know When My Design Is Finished?
I taught a bead weaving workshop where my students followed a basic pattern to make an amulet bag. When they finished the bag itself, they were then given free rein on making a strap and adding fringe.
And they went to town. They added some fringe. Then some more fringe. Then some longer fringe. And fringe with more beads on it. And bigger beads. And some tiny charms. And some more fringe.
Yes, it’s fun to create fringes. But the star of the piece should have been the design of the amulet bag itself. Not the fringe. The fringe detracted. It competed. It made the piece feel very overdone. Not particularly artistic, or designed well.
My students needed to think about editing. As they continued to build each component of the amulet bag and its fringe, they should have repeatedly asked themselves would the addition of one more thing make the project more or less satisfying. Designers should be able to answer these 5 essential questions, especially question 5: How Do I Know When My Design Is Finished?
QUESTION #5: When is enough enough? How does the designer know when the piece is done? Overdone? Or underdone? How do you edit?
It is the challenge for the designer not to make the piece or project under-done or over-done. Each and every material and component part should be integral to the work as a whole. Things should not get too busy, or not busy enough. Things should not be too repetitive. The work should feel, not merely coordinated and balanced, but coherent, as well. The work should not convey a sense that you are not quite there yet.
For every design, there will be that point of parsimony when enough is enough. We want to find that point where experiencing the “whole” is more satisfying than experiencing any of the parts. That point of parsimony is where, if we added (or subtracted) one more thing, we would detract from the whole of our design. The design would be less satisfying. Less resonant.
Finding that point of parsimony is also related to anticipating how and when others will judge the piece as finished and successful. And what to do about it when judged unfinished or unsuccessful.
Parsimony vs. Unity/Variety
In art, the traditional measure of completion and success is a feeling or sense of “Unity.” Unity signifies how everything feels all right. All the Design Elements used, and how they were coordinated and placed, are very coordinated, matching, clear, balanced, harmonious and satisfying. I think the idea of unity begins to get at the place we want to end up. But this concept is not concrete enough for me as a designer.
What bothers me the most is that you can have unity, but the piece still be seen as boring when there is no variety. Criteria provided from the art perspective recognize this. But somehow tempering unity with variety starts to add some ambiguity to our measurements of finish and success. Our work too easily can be judged as lacking coherence. This ambiguity is unacceptable as a principled outcome of construction and design.
Another concern I have, is that you can have unity with variety, but, from the art perspective, these assessments rely too much on universal, objective expectations about design elements and their attributes (for example, the use of color schemes).
A lot of client reactions to our work and a lot of our own design decisions can be very subjective. They can be very culture- and context-related. And sometimes, we intentionally want to violate these universal, objective expectations. We want to give a little edge to our work, or a splash of color, or a shout-out. We may find we have limited material resources, or all the colors / patterns / textures which ideally should be used are unavailable to us. We may want to personalize things so people recognize who the designer is behind the design.
Resonance is not about picking the correct color scheme (or any other design element). It is more about how that color scheme (or design element) is used, manipulated, leveraged or violated within the piece. We must not leave the artist, the user, and the situation out of the equation. We must not minimize the artist’s hand — the artist’s intent, thinking, strategizing, arranging, pushing the boundaries, even violating the universal, objective rules.
Design and the act of creation usually demand a series of judgment calls and tradeoffs. Tradeoffs between aesthetics and functionality. Tradeoffs between artist goals and audience understandings and expectations. Tradeoffs between a full palette of colors-shapes-textures and a very limited one.
Any measure of completeness and success needs to result from the forced choice decisions of the artist. It needs to account for the significance of the results, not just the organization of them. It needs to explain the Why, not just the What.
For me, the Art criteria are insufficient when applied to design. The more appropriate concept here is Parsimony. Parsimony is when you know enough is enough. When the finished and successful piece is parsimonious, the relationship of all the Design Elements and their expressed attributes, as understood by designer and client alike, will be so strong, that to add or remove any one thing would diminish, not just the design, but rather the significance of the design.
Parsimony is sometimes referred to in art and design as Economy, but the idea of economy in art is reserved for the visual effects. Design not only pays homage to the visual, but to the functional, socio-cultural-psychological and situational, as well. The designer needs to be able to decide when enough is enough with all these multi-dimensional cues.
The Traps of Over-Doneness and Under-Doneness
Among designers, you will find a lot of over-doers and under-doers.
· There is a tendency of designers to over-do:
— over-embellish the surface
— add too much fringe
— repeat themes and design elements too often
— use too many colors
· Or a fear or self-doubt causing designers to under-do:
- not sure if someone will like it
- hesitant to push forward too far, for fear of a negative reaction
- uncertain if they can learn a new technique
- feeling choosing alternative colors, materials or techniques by be too risky
With over-doneness comes a naivete. The designer shuts him- or herself off from what should be that inner designer voice warning about parsimony. It stunts your development as a designer. You begin to allow yourself to overlook important factors about materials and techniques to the detriment of your final products. You close yourself off to doubt and self-doubt, which is unfortunate. Doubt and self-doubt are tools for asking questions and questioning things. These help you grow and develop as an artist and designer. These influence your ability to make good, professional choices.
On the other extreme is under-doneness. Often this results from a lack of confidence in our design abilities, including the ability to introduce our work publicly. We question our lack of ability and technical prowess for accomplishing the necessary tasks at hand. We fear we cannot work things out when confronted with unfamiliar or problematic situations. Here, doubt and self-doubt become excuses for less than satisfying results, rather than tools for improvement. Doubt and self-doubt become self-imposed, but unnecessary, barriers we impose to prevent us from thinking like a designer, and experiencing the full excitement of design.
Designers need to build within themselves that key sense of parsimony. Keep things simple and parsimonious. Edit your ideas. You do not want to over-do or under-do your pieces. You do not have to include everything in one piece or project. You can do several pieces or projects. Showing restraint allows for better communication with your audiences. Each work you make should not look like you are frantically trying to prove yourself. These should look like you have given a lot of thought about how others should emotionally engage with your piece.
Many people begin to explore design as a hobby, avocation, business or career. This requires, not only strong creativity skills, but also persistence and perseverance. A lot of the success in this pursuit comes down to an ability to make and follow through on many artistic and design decisions within a particular context or situation. Developing this ability — a fluency, flexibility and originality in design — means that the designer has to become empowered to answer these 5 essential questions: (1) whether creating something is a craft, an art or design, (2) how they think creatively, (3) how they leverage the strengths of various materials and techniques, and minimize weaknesses, (4) how the choices they make in any one design evoke emotions and resonate, and (5) how they know their piece is finished and successful.
Design is more than the application of a set of techniques. It is a mind-set. This fluency and empowerment enable the designer to think and speak like a designer. With fluency comes empowerment, confidence and success.
The 5 Essential Questions:
1. Is What I Am Doing Craft, Art or Design?
2. What Should I Create?
3. What Materials (And Techniques) Work The Best?
4. How Do I Evoke A Resonant Response To My Work?
5. How Do I Know My Piece Is Finished?
Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:
Thank you. I hope you found this article useful.
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Feld, Warren. The Goal Oriented Designer: The Path To Resonance. Art Jewelry
Feld, Warren. “Jewelry Design: A Managed Process,” Klimt02, 2/2/18. https://klimt02.net/forum/articles/jewelry-design-managed-process-warren-feld
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