My background is in digital design. When I started creating art, I saw design and art as two completely different topics. Where design was about creating a useful interactive website or app by following a bunch of principles, I saw art as something out of the box, super creative, and as a can-make-anything-nothing-is-crazy-enough kind of thing.

However, the more art I was making, the more there was this realisation that the two are interconnected to each other.



First off, the key digital design principles


1. Design for a user. This is the number one design principle. We live in a world that’s extensively customer-centred and businesses know that creating a great user experience leads to more sales and less retention. If you were to do design, the key question you gotta ask is; ‘For who is this?’ Then a question like; ‘What do they need and want?’ will follow.  Eventually you barely ever design for yourself, so you must understand who the user is. There are many ways to find this out, through for example interviewing customers or running surveys.


2. Consistency, consistency, consistency. In among others the colours, shapes, and the words you use. We humans have a thing for this. If things aren’t consistent, we quickly mark it as messy, cheap, and uncaring. Also, we will find it harder to understand what something means. Take for example an icon of a person. One time you use this icon to link it to a profile page. Another time you use that same icon as a link to pay something. This might sound weird, but it happens all the time in digital design work. You can imagine it can get confusing. If you want to create amazing design, then be consistent in your wording, the colours you use, the images you place, and overall, a same design style on one project.


3. Simplicity. A digital design needs to be simple and intuitive. A user needs to be able to quickly find what they’re looking for. This is done through designing something that has the 2 above principles AND is super simple and straightforward. This means not adding information that’s not interesting or useful to a user and using for example icons that users know the meaning of. One of the key things a designer does is ‘Creating simplicity out of ambiguity’ as lots of products are very complex, and for a designer it’s the task to make it as simple as possible without losing the users’ needs.



How do these principles relate to art?


Let’s have a look at all three of them.


1. Design for a user: The artworks artists create will be more interesting for one person than another. There will be a demographic who’s more likely to buy certain art works than other people from other demographics. Knowing this, you can create more art for this specific audience by researching and understanding what they like and don’t like.


2. Consistency. A successful project always has some kind consistency. It doesn’t have to be so much as with digital design (where you basically make everything consistent to each other). In art it can be just one similarity, like the colour, the object (like painting birds in all kinds of styles), or the style. Many artists choose for one style and their work becomes known for 1 style. Take Yayoi Kusama, Vincent van Gogh, or Frida Kahlo.


3. Simplicity. Art can be beautiful if it’s messy or if it’s super simple or minimalistic. Every great piece of art has some kind of simplicity in it, may it be through a certain pattern, leaving out non-essential elements and details, or using constraining rules (like using ‘only 50 words, or only using a certain shape over all artworks).


As humans, we love simplicity, consistency, and things that are specifically designed for us, as we create connections to it.



What can you do with this?


In design there’s this general acceptance that it’s much easier to create something amazing if you have a set of principles to follow than when your playfield is empty. The worst designs are the ones that had no rules, no principles to follow. It can become messy and it’s often not attractive to look at. However, if rules are applied for designs and artworks, they can become very interesting. From the side of a designer and artist, making things also become easier and much more fun.

Confessions from an artist

How design principles are used in art

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