Design versus Craft

I was following a thread on A List Apart when one respondent piped up and questioned the looseness of the definition of “design” on the web. He was quickly silenced. I had the same thing happen to me at designers talk for suggesting that most of the websites presented in the forum were mostly craft and actual design was being criticized for being unconventional.

Design and craft are clearly separate. Design is the planning of the artifact and craft is its development. Design has four perspectives: Conceptual, Contextual, Logical and Physical. Craft has four phases: Base Functionality, Advanced Functionality, Functional Trim and Transition.

In the world of websites the division between design and craft has been blurred because the person doing the planning is also doing the development. However, most websites are not designed. Design implies innovation and deviation from established conventions to create a new convention. Most websites are based solely on established conventions and never find their way out of the box. There are many web craftspersons, but few web designers. If we hearken back to Pareto we can say that twenty percent are designers producing eighty percent of the design and eighty percent are craftpersons producing twenty percent of the design.

So, I say to all the “web designers” out there, most of you are craftspeople with little design sense at all. It’s about as legitimate as Google calling its programmers “engineers” or Phil calling himself “doctor”. The terms have lost their weight.

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Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , , . 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Design versus Craft”

  1. amber simmons Says:

    “Design implies innovation and deviation from established conventions to create a new convention. ”

    It doesn’t, actually. You’re talking a quality of design–great design, innovative design. But design is more humble than that. At its core, it’s intentionally making something that actually responds to a need. That’s it. If the design in question challenges us, or changes the way we live our lives (the way I”m sure the iPhone will), then that’s a special circumstance, and something most designers aspire to.

    In fact, I’m going to go so far as to say that in some cases, being innovative or unexpected is bad design. It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and what you want to elieict form the user and, according to your post on ALA about the different foci of design, what your focus is. If, for example, I want to elicit from my user a very specific emotional response, I have to play off what I know of him his culture, and the symbols and connotations he’s probably inherited from his culture. I have to use those images and ideas–something not necessarily easily done!–to manipulate his emotions. And if I’m trying too hard to be innovate and creative, I lose sight of the symbols and elements required to propel him into my mythology, and a sresult, he leaves my site (or product, whatever) confused and dissatisfied.

    That’s gotta be bad design.

    There’s a balance between doing what is conventional and doing what is unexpected, neither of which can alone be considered the hallmark of thoughtful design.

  2. grant czerepak Says:

    “At its core, it’s intentionally making something that actually responds to a need.”
    You hit the nail on the head there, amber. Craft is about making things, design is about planning things.
    If we are not deviating from convention then we are not designing we are crafting. Craft is within the realm of the expected and predictable, within existing plans. Craft may be wonderfully useful, but it is still craft. You can even call it thoughtful craft, but it is craft nonetheless.

    I also agree that innovation is of itself not good. Innovation has to achieve greater effectiveness, efficiency, effortlessness, presence, timeliness and/or personalization than before, otherwise it is bad design. But design has to be innovation.


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