The tension between art and design
And why design is lacking art: Plan Your Next #128
👋 Good morning from Los Angeles! I'm Nate Kadlac, and this is #128 of Plan Your Next. A Sunday newsletter that connects design, creativity, and how you prepare for your next thing. If you recently joined from the recent Write of Passage cohort, welcome!
💡 What’s new?
✍️ I’m enrolled in Write of Passage for the third time. I certainly don't need more on my plate, but the energy I receive from being in a room of hundreds(!) of people is inspiring. I aim to sharpen my ideas around what I’m already writing about and enjoy the gold standard of online courses that David Perell runs.
The tension between art and design
I just had a call about a small design project. It’s not official yet—and it may go nowhere—but it’s an interesting challenge.
When designing for digital experiences, how you define success is often limited by variables out of your control. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s why certain products either succeed or fail.
Knowing your constraints in software is fundamental to understanding what success might look like.
What’s the strength of the engineering team? Are you building in feedback loops? Does ego play a role in your team? Are you allowed to think outside of the box? Do the incentives of the business align with creating a great user experience? Are we building to maintain the status quo, or are we placing bets to solve a problem in a new way? Are the stakeholders aligned with the creative vision? What platforms are we supporting? The list goes on.
From a design perspective, I could spend weeks building beautiful mockups for them never to see the light of day. If you want to see vaporware, just search Dribbble for “dashboards.” This is nothing against the designers, it’s just most of that work is fictional.
As a designer, you’re limited by many of these constraints. Designing a mobile iOS app that creates new paradigms means a ton of heavy lifting to break the constraints Apple has put in place. Creating a new bottom nav bar takes minutes to mockup in Figma, but dozens of hours to implement. The trade-off might not be worth it.
And because everyone deals with these same issues, it’s easier to live within these constraints. This is why software design starts to feel homogenous. Copy what works, and do more of the same. It’s not a stretch to imagine AI being able to replace designers when we’re already designing like robots. We’re constantly building things that look the same because it’s easier.
Design is usually considered divorced from art because of its focus on solving external problems, whereas art is focused on self-expression.
I think this is wrong.
Art is undervalued when designing memorable experiences
There is an often heated debate if art and design can co-exist, whether they’re the same thing, or at odds. I believe they should be used more closely than they are.
There is a lack of art in design.
If art can express our desires, stories, and experiences, its value is directly suited to create differentiated design experiences.
I don’t believe we set out to create experiences that aren’t expressive, but it’s becoming more difficult to do. It takes more dedication and people who care from the top down, weighing the quantitative costs of making subjective decisions and sticking to your gut.
It’s why Steve Jobs is so revered, and what makes Apple truly unique. There’s a sense of art embodied in its software and hardware. There’s storytelling and differentiation in what they build. You can’t love a brand like Apple based only on its smooth advertising. The products themselves need to connect to you personally, and it’s difficult to achieve that level of loyalty by designing within bumper lanes.
I sense the project I’m exploring has a tension between art and design. How do you take one piece of a design system, and surround it with depth, expression, and love? Even if it doesn’t always make perfect sense? In other words, how do you inject art into design?
I believe it starts with pulling on the thread that connects our personalities and stories, then injecting them into the digital experiences we’re building. They can and should co-exist.
⚡️ Two creative hits for you to check out next
👨💻 New York in color, from 1945
When I think of history, I can’t help but imagine it in black and white. It’s like I can’t envision what the 1920s felt like in real life. Others must have the same experience, otherwise, these restored videos wouldn’t be so popular. Check out a drive in NYC from 1945. It’s completely wild to me.
🤲 “We Are As Gods” is available to rent
Never has drooling over a poster pushed me to want to watch a film as intensely as this. The artwork alone by Tyler Thompson is a work of art.
The documentary is about Stewart Brand, the founder of The Whole Earth Catalog.
Steve Jobs said the catalog was, “Google in paperback form, thirty-five years before Google came along. You might realize a popular mantra associated with one company. “Stay Hungry. Stay foolish.” Except this was first printed on the back of each catalog.
👋 See you next Sunday
My calendar is always open to chat about your next adventure, crazy idea, or if you’re feeling creatively stuck.
My goal is to help more people give a damn about what they’re creating next, through my writing, teaching, and design. If you want to support my journey, the best ways are to make better design decisions more easily, communicate stories with better slide decks, or discover your visual style in my live workshops.
Or, if you want to sponsor this newsletter, please reach out. (Starting at $50)
Have a great week,
p.s. Words are just words, but if these words made you feel something, would you let me know by tapping on the heart below?
re: there is a lack of art in design.
I also feel there is a lack of [something] between design and engineering.
Maybe there is a lack of art in software engineering too.
I remember one of the first mantra of WordPress being —back in the days— "code is poetry" (we joked a lot about WordPress code being a mess...), and in fact, as a former software developer working with developers, I'm convinced that programming is more like literature than any kind of engineer-able skill.
When people ask who my inspirations are, they're are always taken by surprise by the fact that none of them is someone working in my field: I follow and I'm inspired by loads of artists (Tyler Thompson? Instant follow) — writers, painters, entertainers of all sorts.