Reflection: Design is intentional

Some of my most hated designs — the ones I can look back at if I want to and ask myself, “What in the world was I thinking?” — are designs that weren’t planned. There was no reason for me to put a giant circle here or a horizontal line there; those elements served no purpose and, for their use to be warranted, they should have served a purpose. If I wanted to answer my own question — “What in the world was I thinking?” — I’d probably say, “I wasn’t thinking.” And that’s the problem.

In class this past week, we talked a lot about what design is — design is content, design is contextual and design is power, to name a few. Among the list was design is intentional.

This really struck a chord with me because of how true it is, and because it’s a great way to understand, or to help others understand, what design does. Even the designs we barely notice are planned — a page in a novel, for example, uses typeface, point size, color, leading, tracking, margins, paragraphs and more, all for the purpose of readability. And many might never think of that page as a design at all.

There needs to be a reason for everything on the page. If I’m going to use that giant circle or that horizontal line, I’d better be able to answer why I’ve elected to do so. If I can answer, and if my reasoning is logical, then my guess is that I won’t hate that design. Some of my most loved designs are designs that were planned. They’re the ones I’m very proud of.

Still, this idea that design is intentional makes me wonder about and put into question a phrase I learned once in a graphic design class way back when during my freshman year of high school: happy accident. In that class, a happy accident was something in our designs that was not intentional, but that worked better than what we were intending. For example, say I was intending to make a shape orange, but instead I accidentally made it red. If red worked better, that color choice would be a happy accident. Part of me wants to say happy accidents happen and work, and that they are unintentional design. But what I’m starting to think is that even though the red was an “accident,” the choice to actually use it instead of switch back to orange was, in fact, intentional. I’d be curious to know what the rest of the class thinks about happy accidents!

Here’s to always being able to answer “What in the world was I thinking,” and to (hopefully) being proud of every design I do from here on out as a result.

Cheryl Seligman


Cheryl Seligman

One Comment

  1. Happy accidents are a glorious part of design! I’ve often serendipitously come across a solution better than the one I’d planned. I love those moments. : ) And you are right to say that intentionality works its way into the process when you pick the accident over the plan.

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