Design Language

My 1987 Volvo

My 1987 Volvo

Sometimes we can’t explain it. Our favorite pen, that go-to sweater that looks good on any day of the week, our beloved chair in the corner where we can curl up and read a book…they just make us feel good. Often times we can’t put into words why we like something. When asked, many of us stare quizzically at the object and then declare, “I just…do.”

Those of us who have thought about it a little more however, can respond differently.

My first car was an old 1987 Volvo. It wasn’t a “cool” car, it didn’t have a radio, and I had to get in the far right lane and put my hazard lights on when I was sputtering up a hill, but I loved that car. It was reliable, it was comfortable, and it was as safe as a tank. The best part was that it smelled like the beach and smoky pine trees from the many bonfires I had at the beach with my friends, after which we would all pile back in to my car, sandy and salty, and head home. I’m sure that they didn’t feel the same emotions towards that car that I did, but that’s what made it even more uniquely mine.

That being said, people react differently to certain smells, shapes, colors, and textures, so designers have the responsibility to understand the emotional reaction that certain designs might evoke. For example, if I design a toy that is heavy, black, and sharp, it won’t be as well received as a toy that is light, painted in fun, bright colors, and has a whimsical look about it. We as designers are responsible for knowing who our target market is and what their demands are. It is imperative that we know this and establish a design language before we start ideating so we are not shooting in the dark.

Following a certain design language comes naturally to some designers, while others have to work hard to understand this concept. Those who are intuitive can research or interview a company, demographic, or a person, and know inherently what their style is and then apply it to the design. It is a bit like downloading a font and then typing an entire blog in it. When designing, it helps to associate terminology with the style you are using. Examples of some terms that my colleagues and I throw around are movement, friendly, balance, playful, light, sophisticated, and intuitive. Once a designer understands the design language, ideating becomes more purposeful. It is both a challenge and a thrill. 

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