2012 College of Design Essay

What is your personal definition of art and your personal definition of design? How do your definitions relate to your portfolio work? Why should design exist at all?

Art aims to stimulate a viewer on an emotional level and to inspire deep thought and contemplation of the artists’ personal point of view and interpretation of the subject matter. Design, however, is distinct from other artistic endeavors because of its aim to clearly articulate a message. While good design can also be seen as good art, and in that sense can trigger the emotions, good design is uniquely defined as having the intended effect in the attitude and behavior of its target audience. Therefore, designers are trained to conceptualize and organize effective visual interpretations of very specific messages.

The similarities and differences between art and design can also be observed in the creative process as well. Art is born from the imagination and guided by intuition with any intended or unintended messages sometimes not being discovered until the later stages of the creative process. In design, this process is literally reversed with the development of a well-defined message as the starting point of the creative process, which firstly seeks to define the possibilities and limitations of a visual interpretation in order to effectively convey the message. Through this process of discovery, intuition and imagination are activated by the interplay of all the carefully chosen elements within the composition, as well as the style and theme, of a design. My portfolio contains a combination of pieces that started with a well-defined message, pieces that came from moments of inspiration, and pieces that were originally inspired by a specific message and were still worthy of development but weren’t considered the best solution for the particular message.

Understanding the culture of the audience is fundamental to effective communication and the field of design harnesses well-established cultural codes, values, symbolism and narrative strategies in order to develop and utilize a visual vocabulary that can be perceived as an intuitive extension of the cultural consciousness. These observations and insights offer a unique vantage point to social and cultural paradigms and have larger sociological and anthropological implications. Therefore, design plays a role as a mantle and signifier of each societies worldview, validating itself as a valuable and significant discipline.

Design doesn’t merely serve to reflect society back to itself however, but through the creative spirit for which it rests, it helps to shape and define its culture by drawing on memory, creativity, and imagination to expand the realities and uncover new possibilities. Design also preserves the integrity of a culture by crafting a focused narrative out of the incessant cacophony of a cluttered world that is all too often oriented towards instant gratification and primitive motivations. As with traditional art, music, and literature, design makes an impact through its creative interpretation of culture and plays an ever-larger role in our consumer society as a force that excites, inspires, and informs each member of the culture to take part in their communities and to endeavor to pursue positive futures for their society.


About Brandon Meyer

I have worked as a web and graphic designer and was originally a design major before deciding to transfer to anthropology with the goal of advancing to Design Anthropology. I am now moving on into my Master's in Design anthropology in the pioneering program at the University of North Texas. Even before discovering the promising field of Design Anthropology, I viewed anthropology as an avenue for design inspiration through a deeper dive into peoples lived experiences within the cultural melting pot. However, my foray into anthropology broadened my perspective and inevitably presented challenges to popular conceptions of representation, innovation, and progress. Design Anthropology is a new field between anthropology and design that has culminated from decades of collaboration in design and HCI, including participatory design, CSCW, ubiquitous computing, UX and user-centred design. Drawing from participatory- speculative- and critical-design, DA reimagines human-centred design by situating and critically engaging design concept and process with everyday life as both a resource for and outcome of design. While traditional ethnographic research continues to play a role, Design Anthropologists conduct speculative fieldwork both of, and within, codesign events as a new line of inquiry into "the possible". Exploring emerging practices, meaning-making, and assemblages as matters of concern in moments of change and innovation as well as the codesign events themselves as collaborative, generative activities. My approach therefore is not as an anthropologist working in the field of design, but to practice Design Anthropology as an emerging field within design. Following the dictum of Design Anthropology that design is not merely a final, prescribed, solution to straightforward problems, but is a temporally and socially embedded arena that inhabits a wide range of perspectives of lived experiences where practices of use are continuously improvised and recontextualized.

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