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Apps Are Not Art

Picture of Simon Fairbairn

Simon Fairbairn

I'm not the world's greatest designer.

I enjoy drawing and illustration and I intend to get good at it over time (I have a long way to go—I estimate my current drawing age to be around nine years old).

I used to maintain the illusion that drawing and illustration was helping me become a better designer but perhaps it wasn't, or at least not to the level that I thought it was.

Drawing and art in general is about the artist. It's about the expression of their reaction to the world. Their pieces ask you to try and see or hear or feel things how they experience them.

It's a transient, rickety bridge that temporarily connects our little island of self to theirs; an invitation into their minds and imaginations, their own subjective experience of our shared objective reality.

Design, on the other hand, is about the user of that design. It is primarily functional. It can absolutely be beautiful and opinionated and thoughtful and approach art in terms of expression but if it's unusable then it necessarily fails as design.

It's about connecting the user to their world in a more meaningful, positive way. It's about making their life easier; making the necessities more enjoyable.

Art is expression, design is empathy.

I'm not a great designer because I spend too much on the former, and not enough on the latter. I think too much about the colours that I like and not about the colours that are right.

If something appears a little dull, my first instinct is to add an illustration in there, which pays no respect to the essence of the problem I'm trying to solve.

I think a good designer is able to inject their personality into their designs without overwhelming the objectives of that design. It's about getting to the core of what that thing is or does and finding ways that accentuate that core in harmony with it.

I believe that the biggest compliment you can pay a designer is "This! This is how <insert thing> should work!"

Not the mediocre, middling "I guess it does what I want" that makes up the bulk of the products and services we use, but the excitement that this thing gets you; that this object thinks like you think—that if you were going to create this thing, this is exactly how you would create it.[1]

I think a great designer is able to do this to scale. It's easier to get a handful of like-minded people to love a design than it is to get hundreds, thousands or even millions.

As I continue to work on the design for Trail Wallet 2, I'm trying to hold these things in mind. I'm attempting to reach a higher standard; to make this thing less about me, and more about you.

  1. Of course, this is not a fixed concept. Our tastes and desires and experiences naturally evolve. This is brilliant news for designers. There will never be a perfect design, just a perfect design for right now. ↩︎