Personal Voice in Design

As a design student, the issue of art versus design never fails to manifest in every classroom. The typical claim is something like this: art is something less practical, more sublime; design is something more useful, more tangible. These kinds of dichotomies essentially point to a single idea: that art is inherently more self-centered than design.

More often than not, design and art collide in a way which makes that difference highly uncomfortable. After all, designers often have artistic tendencies. But design is also about catering to others, not yourself, and I’ve heard a lot of my classmates lamenting the inevitability of entering a workforce which doesn’t care about “their voice”.

It took me a long time to understand that such a concern, while legitimate, isn’t as disastrous as it may seem. Here’s my reasoning.

Selfishness and self-centeredness aren’t the same

I’ve been careful to state that art is inherently more self-centered, than more selfish. That’s because there is a substantial difference between the two. Selfishness is about being preoccupied with oneself in a way that may be detrimental to others. That’s certainly frowned upon in a design environment, where the experience of the audience is crucial. But it’s also not exactly welcome in an art scene, where an art piece which can’t resonate with its audience isn’t particularly powerful.

Self-centeredness, on the other hand, doesn’t include that necessity of being detrimental. As long as your personal voice doesn’t clash with whatever is required of the design, it’s entirely possible to harmonize the two in a way which supports your personal voice, while satisfying the requirements. For example, the game NieR:Automata (2017) heavily features its creator’s style of doom, gloom and despair. Even so, it’s been extremely successful, where people have enjoyed it very much. Designing something which the audience enjoys doesn’t need to conflict with designing something you enjoy.

I’d also like to mention two points which support the above statement:

1. You are inevitably connected to others

Unless you somehow live in a third-personal view, any and all of your actions will inevitably center on yourself. And that’s okay! Self-centeredness doesn’t mean that you concern yourself only with your wants and needs. After all, the self necessarily exists in relation to the outside world, like your friends and family, or certain issues.

As such, even if you don’t actively think about it, your concepts of what will work and what won’t is based on your knowledge of what’s going on around you. I’ve had plenty of classmates who didn’t need user tests to have a decent design, just because they were already able to anticipate issues that users might face. I’ve also had plenty of friends who’re extremely interested in the environment, and only make designs related to such a topic. By living in a first-personal view of an interconnected world, you’re already self-centered without being selfish.

2. Other people aren’t actively trying to deny you your individuality

This is easy to forget when there’s the constant assumption that the world’s out to break you and turn you into a mindless cog of capitalism, but the fact is this: most of your eventual clients, employers, coworkers, are going to be regular people. Even if they might be a little clumsy or confused, they’re highly unlikely to be actively trying to suppress you. I myself went for a design internship, and found that, really, no one had an issue with my preference for elegant styles. On the rare occasions that they did, they tried to help me find a compromise behind my style and what was needed, than completely shutting me down.

And that makes sense. Without each designer’s individual take, designs would be pretty homogenous. Even if there’s some kind of guideline to adhere to, I highly doubt that such lack of innovation would be universally welcome. Simply put, it’s highly unlikely that people are cruel enough to deny you your self-expression.

What does this mean for design, then?

While I’ve stated that being self-centered doesn’t mean you’re selfish, it doesn’t mean that the two are mutually exclusive. I would think that living without getting involved with other people and issues would certainly cause your self-centered existence to truly revolve nothing but yourself, and by extension, become selfishness.

But, really. Even as someone who tends towards extreme reclusion, I’ve never succeeded in isolating myself so perfectly that my work is completely incomprehensible to everyone else. And even I enjoy learning more about my gaming friends, my siblings, politics, philosophy, whatnot.

To end off, I don’t know how much this helps you, but I think you shouldn’t worry too much. There’s nothing wrong with your personal voice, and no one’s out to deny you of it.

Published by

EC Chee

a local peanut (◡‿◡ )

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