Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Design: Simplicity for complexity's sake

"If you want old ideas, look in new books. If you want new ideas, look in old books."

That's a quote from Hanno Ehses, the Chair of the Design Department during my time at NSCAD. It has remained with me ever since. And I actually do believe it. New (design/advertising awards) books are nearly always full of everyone doing variations of the same thing. That's how we recognize one period style from the next. "That's so 50s", or "that looks hippie", etc.. 

On the surface, it appears panel judges routinely award the trendy over the substantial. Some design programs in Canada (at least when I went to school) didn't even spend much time on what makes good design, but taught style over substance. You had graduates who could mimic what was going on, but didn't have a clue why it was effective (or not). That's just unfathomable to me.

But back to the topic... If you want a new way of doing things you need to fertilize your mind with different ideas. That's usually comes from old information that has been forgotten—which is almost exclusively found in old books.

This graphic is an old idea. No it's not a fancy scripts rendering, flash or real-time animation. It's an animated gif – a 12 step gif, but a gif nonetheless. Simple delivery, complex thought process. Yes, they can be cheesy and ugly when done poorly (as can anything), but this one is not. 

In case you're not familiar with the ins and outs of gifs, here's some info from Wikipedia: "The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) is a bitmap image format that was introduced by CompuServe in 1987 and has since come into widespread usage on the World Wide Web due to its wide support and portability. 

The format supports up to 8 bits per pixel thus allowing a single image to reference a palette of up to 256 distinct colors. The colors are chosen from the 24-bit RGB color space. It also supports animations and allows a separate palette of 256 colors for each frame. The color limitation makes the GIF format unsuitable for reproducing color photographs and other images with continuous color, but it is well-suited for simpler images such as graphics or logos with solid areas of color."

Very rudimentary technology, but look at the effect that was achieved. An idea well suited to the vehicle by which it is delivered.

It's easy to forget that we should always use the tool best suited for the job at hand. Sometimes that's new technology, and sometimes it's not. Here's an example. Many years ago, there was someone in one of my NSCAD classes who spent hours, literally, on the computer trying to render a realistic paint brush stroke. This person never thought to just pick up a brush....

That being said, it's not only the delivery method that makes our communications effective or not. It's the quality of the idea within that makes a success or failure. That's what we need to remember. Once again, to close with another Hanno quote, our design solutions should never be "all sizzle and no steak."

Note: I haven't been able to find an attribution for the graphic, but would gladly do so if anyone could tell me.

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