The Redesign of Design

Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about John Maeda (@johnmaeda), the internationally-known designer who was with the Rhode Island School of design and is now with a venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. His job is to evaluate the role of design in potential investments that the firm might make. In the interview, he mentioned that the word “design” is poorly designed. Is it craftsmanship without the constraints of business or customer need? Is it all about using a particular font or graphic layout templates that look “modern”? Is design decoration or something more?

It is interesting to think about the word “design.” De-sign. Typically the precursor, “de” means “to remove.” To depopulate a printed circuit board is to remove components from the board. Deforestation refers to the cutting down of trees. So, what is removed when things are “de-signed”? In this context, it would be useful to ask: what is a “sign”?

A sign presents information. Commonly, signage points the way to an exit or entrance. If everyone knows where they are going, you don’t need the signs. The signs are there primarily for the folks who don’t know.

So to “de-sign” something could be to remove the instructions and information and allow the thing to speak for itself. It is the process of making a space, product, or interface so clear that further instruction is superfluous. It is a simplification. It is making something clear and easy. It is making objects smarter at their function, allowing the users to not have to be as smart.

In our industry in digital signage, we have an opportunity to design the sign. To de-sign the sign. To make it not something just to inform or instruct, but also to inspire and engage. A great design allows the message to be stated simply. It’s purpose speaks for itself and it works with the design of the overall space more seamlessly. This requires displays that don’t distract and add unnecessary complexity (see our logo-free bezels and ultra narrow bezel walls, for example). It also requires great content and experience design, where designers and brands come together to build something at the intersection of technology and art.

So although the word “design” might be poorly designed, I think it speaks to the essence of what we all know great design to be. Something you can’t see, but can experience. And when image experience matters, that is where Planar shines.

By Jennifer Davis, VP of Marketing