Design blogs have taken on a new persona. Instead of imparting information, they have become showcases for design inspiration rather than learning stations. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. In fact, gaining inspiration by looking at the works of others can be a critical aspect of the creative process. The problem, however, with these inspiration galleries is two-fold. First, inspiration has an ugly side called envy. Being envious leads to negativity and does more harm than good in the creative process. On the best days inspiration can break the creative block suffered by many designers, but on a bad day it can stifle the process entirely. Second, and far more important, the difference between designers and artists is that designers solve problems as their first prerogative, while artists may solve problems but it is not their first and foremost goal.
Since design is a problem solving field, looking at showcases of amazing work, no matter how inspiring, is looking at art and not at design. Looking at the most amazing Dribbble skeumorphic icons can be inspiring, but it doesn’t show whether or not a problem was solved by using these icons. In other words, it is hard to look at portfolios, showcases, and articles like “Twenty Awesome Free Fonts” and know whether or not a designer has solved a problem. As a result, designers are looking at art instead of design. While there’s nothing wrong with this inherently, blurring the lines between design and art can have a negative impact on the design process. When designers consider aesthetics to be more important than meeting the needs of the client or community, they have gone beyond the bounds of design.
Reading about design, however, is different than looking at design inspiration or showcases. Design is deeply entrenched in theory. Why do people buy a product? Why do they click where they do? What do colors represent in the psyche of the user? How have different tactics been used to reach the same goals? These types of questions are rarely answered in the quick, image-based lists of design inspiration articles. These types of questions are answered through reading case studies, academic articles, and articles about design theory.
As a design community, we should foster the distinction between art and design and embrace both. As part of a creative process we should encourage inspiring showcases and great looking aesthetics, but we should also make a clear differentiation between art and design. Encouraging designers to write case studies and to explain their process is sorely lacking in design blogs. Designers are writing great books, like the Book Apart series, yet these books aren’t getting the respect and readership they deserve. In order to push forward the frontiers of design as a problem solving field, designers must find inspiration from problems that have been solved rather than pretty pictures.