Matt Greenwood’s buttery smooth “Elements of Design” is a high-speed buffet of some key concepts behind motion graphic design. I’d love to try it as a four course meal.
Despite my head-nodding throughout the piece, I’m not sure the project’s conclusion is one I can endorse. It seems to posit two extremes: design as “science,” which in this context is meant to mean algorithmic or formulaic. (Free advice: Don’t ever tell a scientist what they do is formulaic.)
The other extreme presented is “just moving things around until it feels right.” This is the option that the project — and presumably Mr. Greenwood — feel is the right approach.
My only quibble with this notion is that it’s all wrong.
Your right is wrong
In classrooms, I’ve watched students move things around until it felt right to them. The problem is that it often felt right only to them. The rest of us were baffled by their decisions, wondering what in the hell they were thinking and wishing they would just scrap the whole mess and start over.
Unlike art, design’s chief concern is to communicate ideas. If your creative decisions keep an idea from being expressed clearly, then they are, to put it bluntly, bad ideas.
While you’re making design decisions, intuition can be an excellent guiding force, but only if you’ve already internalized what constitutes successful design.
Baby, meet bathwater?
Mr. Greenwood has a good intuitive feel for design because he — either through trial and error or through old-fashioned book learnin’ — has a solid grasp of the foundational elements of design, most of which he covers in his film.
That he ends on an idea that seems to toss all the rules out the window — rules he effectively employed (possibly subconsciously) throughout his film — is… baffling and a little troubling.
The morning after posting this, I saw this tweet from a friend:
And here’s the video of Glaser in question:
That video only makes my case further. As Mr. Glaser says in the video, he’s been practicing graphic design since the 1940s. Those intervening decades of practice have finely tuned his intuition, making it much more reliable than it would have been at the beginning of his career.