Design exists within the context of all visual and media arts. Much of the innovation that occurs in design is driven by influences from, references to, or outright appropriation of these arts. The deeper a designer’s knowledge and engagement in developments in the humanities – including in literature and performance – the more they can drive their creativity within a cultural and social alignment.

We have an opportunity as designers to transform the way design is practiced. Not as a brand strategy controlled by advertisers, but as a discipline informed by wider humanist social frameworks. We have a responsibility to our clients to use this knowledge to increase awareness of the impact of our actions. We have a responsibility to educate and empower our audiences, and our commitment to our own education is central to this.

The culinary arts are an example of how to innovate and transform a culture of tradition, custom, and habit with many similarities to design. Ferran Adrià is the creative chef behind the success of Barcelona restaurant elBulli. By cross-pollinating scientific techniques and processes with traditional cooking methods, he evolved what he calls ‘a new language’ of cuisine. His wild imagination paved the way for a generation of chefs to rethink the way we understand food and eating. But he has always acknowledged the long tradition of Catalonian recipes that lay the foundations for his innovations. As with all design, if you do not understand your past or your present you can’t move into a future. Design needs a little grounding, to become a little humbler.

The story goes that Adrià, frustrated by a journalist’s repeated enquiries about the innovations and chemistry-lab-like cooking he had heard so much about, dragged the struggling reporter into the kitchen. ‘You want to see my technology?’ he asked. Grabbing the hand of one of his apprentice chefs who was busy preparing mushrooms, he turned it over to reveal fingers sore from hours of meticulous labour. ‘There is my technology.’

Creativity is about using what you understand of the world and about finding meaning in that understanding. And we have to use our creativity. The more complexity you can see and feel, the clearer your expression of ideas can be. Creativity for its own sake is only useful to you, the aim of good design is to add value to other people’s lives. To share your insights with others, with the best tools that you have, is the gift you give to the world.

I truly think not everyone is creative, nor should be, despite common belief to the contrary. Creativity is a word loosely used and applied too often. Creativity is the ability to come up with something unique that adds value. Most of what is labeled ‘creative’ is a derivative permutation of someone else’s idea, adding little more than an increase in the level of noise. The more we all believe we have something creative to contribute, the more we contribute only mediocrity and verbiage.
Design can disrupt us, jolt us from our stupor, and reveal mediocrity, complacency and potential violations of our cultural and educational freedoms.

We forget that disruption isn’t some new paradigm. It may spread faster and further now with the technologies now available to us, but it has always gone hand in hand with social change. Good design has always been disruptive, in that it affords change. Applying design thinking to any problem or cause can offer clear insights into branding and audience behaviours, and increase visibility, desirability, and loyalty.

But it is not enough just to provide a disruption. Designers are communicators are connectors. What are you saying to me now you have interrupted? What do you want me to take away from this? If you want to tell me a story, make me care. Otherwise, there is no connection.

People’s narratives are visceral and textural. We use multiple and multi-layered ways to express and explain our place in the world. These narratives are not easy to capture. Writers, filmmakers, and artists strive their whole lives to find some truths in storytelling. As designers, we don’t spend enough time crafting storylines to properly connect with or have resonance for our audiences.

This article is an excerpt from ‘Fighting The Good Fight’ by Tim Jetis in Ligature Journal issue two. Find out more about this issue here and buy a copy here.