In the first article of the Android Design Corner series we looked at the very basic definition of design, and where Android’s current state fell within those terms. But that was simply an introduction. Today we go beyond the basic definition and begin to lay the foundation for what design really is.
First, however, a line needs to be set and understood. There are two aspects to design: functional and visual. Functional design encompasses the way that something works: the flow, content, and functionality. The look, feel, and emotion generally comes into play from the visual design. We will eventually dive deeper into visual design, but because visual is highly dependent upon function, today the focus will be on functional design.
There are two aspects to design: functional and visual.
Now, part of me hates to break it down into these categories because, in the end, both are immensely intertwined and dependent upon each other. Yet, there is a distinct difference that needs to be made between the two.
With that understanding in place, we are going to begin by taking a step backward in time.
The word technology is highly misunderstood in today’s culture. Technology is just knowledge and tools created to solve problems of the current era, and thus; the designing of technology runs incredibly deep into history. Every technology dating back to the caveman’s club has been designed in some form or fashion.
The first caveman to grab a large stick to use as a club probably decided that it should have a thin end for holding and a wider end to hit things with. This caveman knew the purpose of the object, to hit things, and understood the constraint of the size of his hand to hold the stick. By pairing these two ideas together, the purpose and constraints, the caveman was able to design the type of tool that he needed.
Now, saying that a caveman designed his club is a rather dumb statement, but it shows the basic thought process behind design.
In the design process, one has to create technology with purpose in mind, while at the same time overcoming the constraints in order to fashion the right object for interacting with.
Purpose sits at the forefront of design. Whenever crafting and creating anything, the purpose of that technology needs to be known and evaluated in every decision. If a caveman decided to make a club, but chose a short thin stick, he obviously missed the purpose of a club.
Purpose should always be at the forefront of every decision
Most people understand the idea of creating with purpose and, on a basic level, will adhere to it as common sense. The main idea that needs to be reiterated is that purpose should always be at the forefront of every decision. However, like most of life, there are always boundaries to stay within.
The next big idea within functional design is constraint. To keep definitions simple, a constraint is simply a limitation. Constraints set the guidelines and boundaries to the sandbox of ideas in which we are working.
Observing the example of cavemen, we established that the purpose of a club was to hit things as hard as possible. So, it would follow that a bigger and wider stick would always be better. However, a caveman has the limitation of the size of his hand and has to work within this constraint. Thus, a thinner end to hold enters the design.
The design process is cyclical. At its core, it’s simply this: set a goal, implement to meet the goal, and evaluate to see if the goal has been met.
- Has the purpose been met?
- Have the constraints been accounted for?
If not, then repeat with a different implementation. Whenever I start a new project, I sit down and create something like this:
The very first thing I do when starting a new project is figure out the purpose and goals that it has to meet. I always start with functional design before visual. From those decisions, all else flows forth: content, layout, order, and visual style. Once I’ve made some decisions and begun implementation, I stop, evaluate where I’m at, and ask myself the questions above.
This is an Android-focused site and I would venture to guess that anyone still reading this post has interest in design as it relates to Android, but so far I haven’t even mentioned Android or mobile technology once. There is reason for this however; the design process has been utilized since the first technologies of our existence. It isn’t just a process limited to new and exciting technologies. To truly learn great design techniques, we have to look all around us.
When I first started learning about design, someone had me think about the way that those cheap white stack-able chairs were designed. I thought that it was a ridiculous exercise that had no connection to the way that I would design for Android or current technology; but it does.
To hold the weight of a person sitting in it and to be easily stored
They needed to be cheap and mass produced from a mold.
People do design work everyday without even realizing it. Writers have to perfectly design their thought processes into words to accurately portray ideas. Body builders have to design routines to get results they want. Even activities as mundane as organizing your schedule have elements of design to them.
So then, what other mediums do you design in and what lessons can be learned?
And don’t worry folks – we are going to talk Android very soon.