Monday, August 24, 2009

Scott Hansen: Communicating Efficiently

If you look at this blog, you are most likely already familiar with the work of Scott Hansen, aka ISO50, aka musician Tycho. However, being one of my favorite designers, I’d like to talk a little about his approach here, and perhaps introduce his work to those that don’t already know it.

Followers of the ISO50 blog can expect a combination of good (and often retro) examples of design, music mixes posted by the other editors of the blog, and pieces of Scott’s work, which usually combine photography with a mastery of the Adobe creative suite (Scott once worked for Adobe if I understand correctly). He doesn’t claim to be an authority on design, and in fact doesn’t hold a degree on the subject. Scott’s singular style is informed by 1960’s design, what he calls the zenith of an art form rooted in the Bauhaus movement, which was then altered forever upon the advent of television, and later the internet.

Scott Hansen on design: “Design, to me, is the search for efficiency. Efficiency in conveying a message, efficiency of form. In this way I see some of my own work falling into the category of design, while some of my other work falls under the umbrella of illustration. With the more illustrative pieces my primary goal is to create something beautiful or striking in a visceral sense. These goals remain intact when I create a purely design-driven piece, but there is the added goal of minimalism and efficiency which constrains the process and limits the content. It is these constraints that force us as designers to reveal the core of the idea we are trying to express and to seek the most direct route to it. In this way, all of the periphery and excess of illustration and fine art can be shed to expose the roots of visual communication and express them in a concise and instantly understandable form. When I see something that embodies these ideals it is always very moving, these are the things that drive me to create”

"Design, to me, is the search for efficiency. Efficiency in conveying a message, efficiency of form"

Scott’s message about efficiency rings very true to me. Too often when working on design projects, we get caught up in the surface level stuff, the execution, and sometimes completely neglect the actual message that we want to express. I have noticed that when someone is proficient at something then (and only then) they are able to take shortcuts to accomplish whatever end they seek. As casual observers, we have all experienced those moments of “they make that look easy!” A great presenter can deliver an effective speech in a minimum amount of time and without a bunch of “umm”s, my favorite guitar player is able to convey the strongest emotions with an economy of notes, and the trained painter can render an image with just a few marks of color. Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”, and the list goes on. By internalizing strong, fundamental skills, we can free up some brain space to focus on the next level of communication, the essence of our message, something I will discuss in following posts.

It's tempting to want to be proficient at something overnight, but those people who can blow your mind with a couple notes on a guitar are the ones who have put the most time into it. Being efficient (effective) isn't about not trying, but quite the opposite. This is a reminder to all of us to always seek the core of the idea we are trying to express, and find the most direct route to it. Your unique way of being resourceful and finding that route will naturally reveal your personal style.