“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works…To design something really well, you have to get it…It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.”
This quote is from Steve Jobs, and it got me thinking. Rather it gelled with things I was already thinking. When I was studying painting in Italy my “master,” Charles Cecil, told us that in English you have two words, drawing and design, and they mean different things. Drawing means the act or product of marking on paper. Design means the look of that thing. But in Italian you only have one word, disegno. And disengo means not only a drawing, but the look, the design of the drawing. There’s a conceptual difference not only between how the words are treated and used, but how they shape us and our respective cultures. Italians are world-renowned for their abilities in design, look at cars, fashion or architecture for just a few examples. Design should be apparent within and integral to a drawing, or any other endeavor.
Back to Jobs. When Jobs says that design is “how it works” that can be read on so many different levels. When we talk about the way something works we think of a tool, like a hammer or a computer and how we interact with it, but what about a book? How does a book work, and what does design mean for a book? More importantly what does design mean for a graphic novel?
As graphic novel auteurs it is our job not just to tell a story, but to tell it in the most compelling and accessible way possible. Do we seek to illuminate, or obfuscate with our work? I would argue that effective storytelling is good design. It just works. You know it when you see it on the page. The hairs on the back of your neck begin to stand up and your mind says, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” The most effective way that we, as auteurs, can become better at what we do is to drink up experience. Take in as much as you can and then use it to inform your work. Study, really study design. And then use what you learn to bring your game to the next level.
Ultimately my goal is to attract and keep readers. I believe the only way to do this is to make the best work I can and put it out there. So, my sense of design becomes a spider’s web.