Why Design?20th April 2010
‘Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.
But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.’
John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1972
John Berger wrote this as part of his introduction to his 1972 book Ways of Seeing, in which he explored the power and immediacy of the visual. Amongst other topics he looked at the way we bring assumptions to bear almost instantly on what we see, sometimes negatively, sometimes positively, but often without even realising it.
Two important things come from this work that act as reinforcement for the existence of good design, the first is the immediate nature of what we see. It acts on so many levels and provokes so much realised and subconscious reaction practically within an instant that, as a medium, it is unmatched.
The second is that, entirely because of the first point, it needs to be done well. Recognition, as Berger points out, is a major factor – as is association. Design, therefore, has to be a very controlled and considered practice, intended to deliver the correct messages and nuances whilst deftly avoiding summoning the incorrect ones. What may seem a simple logo is often the result of hundreds of hours of consideration and crafting.
But good design cannot achieve the impossible. It certainly cannot do the whole job on its own. The promise built into the design must be fulfilled by the client. As Berger goes on to state;
‘The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.’