My Hypothesis: If design is a science, then you should be able to understand this blog post
Design as More Than Just “the Arts”
Today, I am going to do the impossible. I am going to argue that design is, in fact, a science.
Now, I’m not attacking STEM fields or saying they are less important than graphic design. I celebrate those who dedicate their lives to helping humanity through the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I’m just trying to spin a different perspective on a discipline that is often seen as less intellectual and less demanding than those fields, and further show that graphic design holds a high level of importance in today’s society.
What determines a discipline to be scientific? Turning to Google, the definition of science claims it must be a “practical” and “systematic” behavioral study of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation. I interpret this to mean that through repeated observations, we can learn, or at the very least, theorize rules or guidelines that describe the behavior of how something works.
This principle lies at the very heart of graphic design. This is the reason why there is “good” and “bad” design. “Good design” is not just visually pleasing; there are a series of generic design guidelines that provide structure and meaning to every design. When these rules are lacking in a design, it often becomes lesser quality, even if someone finds it visually pleasing. While the design may be “pretty”, does it quickly and easily do its job of communicating the intended message or solve the specific problem?
Ultimately, the visual aesthetics become completely subjective. Obviously different colors, images, and typefaces will appeal to different people. But the practical structure given to design through the use of these guidelines objectifies the field; it turns it into something that can be studied and given a “better” or “worse” approach to solving the problem.
Take color psychology for example. While color is completely subjective, there are plenty of studies that show that colors evoke different emotions. Red is especially seen as an emotional color, embodying anger, passion, and love. Red, yellow, and other warm colors have also been proven to make people hungry, which is why they are popular choices for restaurant brands (hello, McDonalds!). As a designer, you not only have to pay attention to how the color looks in your design, but also the implicit meanings of the colors you choose. This practicality shows how design is much more akin to the science of psychology than the pure creativity seen in fine art disciplines. While fine art is seen as more of an entertainment field (which still holds its place of importance in society!), design takes on a more scientific characteristic. You must be able to predict the behavior of your audience that is viewing your designs so you can use the best visual choices to communicate your message efficiently and effectively.
The quantity of studies in typography also show how graphic design systematically observes how people behave when they interact with a visual — in this case, type. By using eye-tracking methods, it has been scientifically determined why certain typographic decisions work best because it mimics the way we interpret letters and letterforms. For example, the practice of left aligning text, the standard for most designs, is used because it follows the natural reading rhythm of our eyes. Left align gives us a solid starting point that doesn’t shift, meaning it becomes easier to read large quantities of text because our eyes begin reading each line in the same spot.
This is not to say that these generic guidelines should always be followed; in fact, “breaking the grid” is the mantra for many successful and talented designers. But this is where design’s creative streak shows. The goal of design is to determine what the best way is to present the message you are trying to communicate; one solution does not always work for every problem. Therefore, as every designer can tell you, experimentation is key to determining the best solution. Sound familiar? Just like in scientific fields, exploring design solutions means adjusting variables while keeping constants, all in order to find the solution that works best.
Practical, systematic observation and experimentation to determine an individual’s behavior and reaction — sure seems sound as science to me!