I recently visited an exhibition of the work of art editor and graphic designer David Hillman. He is a man whose work I have long admired – and indeed did not know that he was the one behind all the different manifestations. From the days of the iconic Nova magazine, the glory days of the Sunday Times newspaper, the surreal Benson and Hedges cigarette advertisements, all the designs for Pentagram , … these are images which brought feelings of wonder, excitement, a need to see and know more. This was the kind of design that I dreamed of aspiring to in my publishing work.
In each case the image was more than the sum of its parts, and was definitively fit for purpose: it drew the appropriate attention to the product, not to the designer of the image – except from fellow professionals. Good product design similarly excites me, as does brilliant architectural design. In each case the end result should be at the very least fit for purpose, and also hold some individual integrity beyond the sum of its parts.
Design is done to a brief which provides boundaries and requirements, as well as the discipline of a necessary respect for the materials and techniques involved. I have always believed that the more one knows, but the less one indulges oneself the better prepared becomes the vital tool of the brain’s back burner.
Although art and design are different disciplines, they should overlap, just as they should both overlap with craft. The more frequently exercised debate is the one between craft and art; but the one not often enough heard is that between design and art, most especially the question of fitness for purpose.
Of course this fitness for purpose in art this is not so clearly defined as in product design, architecture, even graphic design and craft. And it goes without saying that I am not in the least talking about any practical purpose. The artist themselves and time are the important judges of what that purpose is; but the informed observer – whether a practising artist or not – should keep seeking to make critical judgments of their own – even if those judgments are later refined or even revised in the light of further enlightenment. And by critical I do not mean only negative judgements or observations.
I do believe that there should be a fitness for purpose in one’s art, and that this should constantly be under consideration. This design thinking, once second nature, along with mastery of appropriate craft and its twin, appreciation of materials, facilitates those special tools of the artist – imagination and the back burner – in making good art: something more than the sum of its parts.