I came across the phrase “Design Language” while studying various books about Apple, and in particular the “Snow White” design language was mentioned a lot. This was created by Hartmut Esslinger when Steve Jobs hired him to design many of the early Apple products. After reading Esslinger’s book “A Fine Line”, I was none the wiser as to what it actually was. However Bob Brunner explained it perfectly in his book “Do you matter?” which I think is a great inspiration if you want to make your company Design Driven.
So what is a Design Language?
Essentially it is a “way of communicating”, and Brunner references Webster’s definition of “language” which I will summarise here:
“the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other”.
However, this begs the thought that you can only have a Design Language if you actually have something to say, and you can only have something to say (that’s worthwhile) if you (or your company) actually matter to someone, anyone. This means that the Design Language must be intertwined with the mission/vision/raison d’être of the company and this can be hard for “Excel” types to “get”.
I am trying to develop a Design Language for my company to create a number of games and apps for the iPhone, but it has forced me to think about what the language is actually for, i.e. what do I actually have to say?
One inspiring line from Brunner’s book is from Adrian van Hooydonk who designed many of the recent BMW cars, who is quoted as saying “my job is to create and communicate through proportions, surfaces and stance, performance, agility, and power”. When you look at BMW cars they do tend to “speak” this way, in a manner that other cars simply do not.
I am trying to apply this thinking to one of my primary forms of expression, developing computer games, which has been a lifelong passion since a very early age. However it has forced me to think inwardly about exactly what I am trying to express and why.
For me the primary reason to create a computer game (these days on iPhone) is to create something new that never existed before, and that hopefully gives me some pleasure and other people a little bit of joy. But what exactly to create when my mind is filled with a thousand ideas? Why project 1 and not project 1000? The answer is that it has to be a project that is symbiotic with me at its core, something in line with my identity (whatever that is) and whatever I stand for. What exactly do I have to say that can be consistent across all future projects?
To make the job even harder I also want to create a graphical style even though I am no graphic artist. I found some inspiration from Josef Muller Brockman in “The Graphic Artist and his Design Problems” where he talks about Objective Art. Essentially he gave up being an “illustrator” because it obscured what he was trying to achieve as it lent a personality to any work. Instead he says it was inevitable to move to Objective Art to focus on the key design problems and the purer aspects of graphic design: lines, shapes, form angles and grid systems. I interpret this as trying to “seeking the truth” in any piece of work by being anonymous through the withdrawal of any form of personality. This way the work stands or falls by itself and becomes the core focus.
This is something I want to try to do, but exactly how I am not so sure.