The Faithful Designer and The Artist at Heart


…the path of a faithful designer never leads her to anywhere, until she finds her artist at heart.

After decades I’m still fascinated by Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal music video every time I watch it.

It was an idea so well executed. The coin-throwing opening, the masterfully choreographed group dance, the transcendental light-out segment, and the perfect orchestration of everyone in the background. Every corner we look in every scene, we find the orchestrated harmony that contributes to the immersive delight we feel while watching the video.

That teaches us something about designing products, services, and experiences for humans: designing to meet people’s needs is often not enough.

A good designer has to be also an artist at heart. She needs to have an opinion on what she thinks is good, not just by utilitarian standard, but also for her artistic outlook.

That opinion can be personal, cultural, social, or even political. She has every right to let it be. And her opinion sips into the judgement in her design.

Eventually, it’s her insistence on executing that artistic outlook with opinion that leads to the profound delight her design brings to people’s heart.

There are no rules in design, except the limits set by the law and your conscience…

As a designer, you are not hired to produce the obvious. You have to go beyond the client’s or employer’s preconceived image of the new design, and employ your specialist knowledge and skills to design something that is better than they could imagine. This way of not precisely doing what you are asked to do may be interpreted as arrogance by those at the other side of the table. So be it. This is the only way to give them value for money. It is all part of being a designer.

— Kees Dorst, Understanding Design

Reflecting back, I think it was the Smooth Criminal music video that enlightened me on the limitless artistic power of orchestration.

My father spent a fortune to buy the Moonwalker video cassette for me, after he showed me the original Prince of Persia years before. I’m forever grateful for what he did. Although he wanted to study philosophy in the university, ended up studying mathematics, and landed a job in computer systems years later, he showed me the potential of being an artist at heart no matter what one ends up doing.

Perhaps, the path of a faithful designer never leads her to anywhere, until she finds her artist at heart.


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