Think of Creating a Language Rather than a Form

Heard in a fictional design studio near you.

Me: Yo man, how is it going?
Designer: Great! I’m just sketching/developing/refining this concept.
Me: Cool, so how do they look?
Designer: Here they are…
Me: Hmm…so what are we looking at here?
Designer: Ah…I’m inspired by [insert suitable object] and creating this to match [insert product], but then to make it different, I’m using [insert line description] to create [insert dynamic] between these two elements…
Me: But, it does not look anything like your inspiration nor is it logical to what we want to do here?
Designer: Eh…what?
Me: Ok, basically what are you trying to communicate with your design?

Sound familiar?
Or perhaps another scenario could be you are working on a design and it does not seem to be going anywhere as you are either stuck or it’s well just crap! You see, what you are basically doing is random doodling rather than intelligent drawing.
Under these circumstances, what I always tell my design team, is to focus on creating a design language rather than just a form. In other words, ask yourself what is this shape trying to say or trying to tell me?
Why is that?
What many designers don’t realize is that design is a communication tool and a product’s form needs to therefore communicate the product’s intent. The product’s intent can consist of many factors. These includes target market requirements, branding, ergonomics, design language standards, technology, etc. Its all depends on how you define the product’s brief.
So when you are styling a product’s form, you are actually communicating, to the user, the what and how this product should function. A language if would you like. Unfortunately many designs fail on this one simple point.
If you focus on that fact, you will suddenly realize that the shape you have created suddenly has meaning, or maybe it does not. Once you start to ask about the meaning or are looking to apply meaning to your form, your design thought starts to become multi-dimensional.
The reality is that, this tip can applied to many other design professions such as Graphic, Interiors even Fashion etc. Why not try it and let me know if it works for you? All the best to your design concept success!

  • tiffanywan

    November 12, 2009 at 3:48 am Reply

    Great insight!
    Defining what the product should communicate visually will also help in expressing design concepts to non-designers, who are always just looking for a new shiny case/box 😛

  • Camille

    October 25, 2009 at 4:48 am Reply

    You bring up good points, DT. Your mention of the application of this approach to other design disciplines is something I certainly believe in, as well. Design is a multi-dimensional tool for communicating with a target audience. Designers who understand this as the ultimate purpose of our profession – no matter the specific discipline – create some of the most thoughtful work, in my opinion.

  • DT

    October 2, 2009 at 5:39 pm Reply

    Hey Karl, I think you posted this link in the wrong place. Join the conversation here?

  • karl

    October 1, 2009 at 7:35 pm Reply

    Hey Brian, as a designer living in Japan I see quite a few of these hand dryers. You will be pleased to know that some other brand or brands have for some years now had the exact design language you are talking about – A U-section in profile and friendlier colours. No mistaking it.

  • K

    July 28, 2008 at 12:22 am Reply

    Yeah, this is so true. Especially in design school, where you see quite often a lot of nice organic shapes that, though visually appealing, most of the time do not clearly communicate the purpose of the design.

  • Regis

    July 24, 2008 at 4:50 am Reply

    Form follows function.

  • sssj

    July 24, 2008 at 4:19 am Reply

    Definitely. This is so true. Great post as always DT, keep up the great translations.

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