Podcast

Beauty Should Not Be the Starting Point for Design – with Juuli Kiiskinen

Art vs Design - The Drag & Drop Show, A Podcast by Bannersnack
9 minutes read

Welcome back to the Drag & Drop Show!

Design and art are two concepts that have been used together for so long that separating them is an often-overlooked affair. While many designers adhere to the: “beauty sells” policy and put all their efforts into mastering the visual realm, there’s still a question that stands above all others in the advertising world: “What sells better, art or design?”.

The answer to this riddle and many others lie in today’s episode, from the perspective of Juuli Kiiskinen, Senior Design Consultant at Columbia Road, a Digital Growth Consultancy firm by Futurice.

Besides being a Creatopy client, Juulie has previously written an article that caught our attention entitled: “You are a DESIGNer, not an ARTist.” The article speaks about the difference between design and art, and the importance of design efficiency. 

Without further ado, hit play or keep scrolling to get Juulie’s perspective on design and why it is essential in business, but most importantly, why it is not the number one thing:

Key Takeaways

  • Unlike art, design is a tool that has an end-goal, other than self-expression. In general, the end-goal of businesses is profit-making. 
  • When a designer’s inner-artist takes over, it is much more likely that they’ll step away from the business goal. 
  • One’s vision of things and perspective is not the ultimate design truth.
  • If you think of yourself as a designer rather than an artist, it’s easier to take a step back from your work, investigate the circumstances, and digest negative feedback.
  • Designers frequently surround themselves with other designers, so their perception of beauty tends to be biased. 
  • Beauty is obviously a plus, but it should not be the starting point of a design. 
  • Design should be an inclusive process, and everyone should take part in it. 

Transcript

John Biggs: Welcome back! I’m John Biggs, and today on the show we have Juuli Kiiskinen. So, Juuli, you are a designer, and your primary message and some of the posts that I’ve been reading of yours are actually pretty fascinating. 

Why don’t you describe your view of art versus design, and what it means in terms of business, and in terms of creating things?

Juuli Kiiskinen: My background is in the arts. I studied at a pretty famous Finnish art school, Institute of Design. From there, when I got into work-life, I first thought that I would go into an advertising agency because obviously everybody wants to work in an advertising agency.

I’ve actually ended up working for a business consultancy firm. At some point, I realized that design making isn’t just for the sake of designI had this realization that when you work in design, the end-purpose should be something else than the actual design. A thing that they teach in art schools is that art is something that has a self-purpose, and I’m totally fine with that in the context of art, but business is a different thing.

I think that my perspective towards design, and design in business, is that you shouldn’t think of design as a self-purpose.

Design is only a tool that has an end-goal, and usually, the end-goal in business is money.

I think that when you understand that as a designer, you get this feeling of relief because then you don’t have to fight against your perspective of a campaign or whatever it is. It’s something that you made for a client because the client wants something.

So, when you separate these two, me as an artist, and me doing the things that I want, then you step away from the business goal. I think that at that point you realize that it’s going to be much easier to be a designer. I think that everybody who has worked with um… how I should say this? Some people are egoistic in a way that they feel that their vision of things is the only truth.

But when you are able to separate the things and realize that it’s not you when the client doesn’t like the work, it’s not them not liking you, but them not liking the piece, and they usually have a good point. But if you just think of it as something against you, then it’s hard. 

John Biggs: Sure. So, there’s actually a lot to unpack here. This is actually a fascinating concept. It’s like the artist in you says: “This is my work, accept it at face value implicitly.” That’s essentially what you’re taught in a writing school if you’re doing creative writing. What you’re taught in art school is that the work itself has implicit value and that your critique of the work is outside of the work, and it shouldn’t depend on the monetary value of the thing. But, what you’re saying is that that cord has to be cut. Is that a painful process? Is that something that the average artist can do?

Juuli Kiiskinen: Uh, yeah. I think that it is painful. I’ll give you an example. So, the agency that I work for is really a lot about data. And, I know that this is a controversial discussion now going on everywhere in the world – data versus creativity and so on. So, we work a lot with data and testing. I’ve seen results with my own eyes. 

For example, one time, we did a set of banners, and I made one banner with graphics, one banner where we animated graphics, and one banner in which we used a stock photo. The last one performed better, even though it wasn’t fully looking like the brand that we were advertising.

I’ve seen this like in many other places as well. For example, we have this one client who is part of a big brand house. In their case, for example, when they were trying to get people to sign up for their newsletter, they had this test with a super beautiful signup form and another one packed with information and a lot of input. So, everybody thought that the beautiful signup form would perform the best, but it didn’t.

We, designers, have to realize that our perception of what is beautiful doesn’t necessarily work in terms of driving results.

That realization is a painful experience. I think that I’ve been struggling with it, but now I’m like: “Yeah, I get it now!”

John Biggs: So, you’re like Neo in The Matrix. You’ve come out the other end. 

Juuli Kiiskinen: Yeah, exactly. 

John Biggs: So, what you’re saying is that you’re trying to find the beauty in the tool, right? Uh, that the tool may be a hammer, it may be a chisel, a saw, or it may be a paintbrush – that has the implicit value versus what comes out of that tool. The creativity that comes out of that tool, the simplest thing is the beginning of the process as opposed to the end of the process, which an MFA would teach you: to create with a brush, or to create with the saw, or to create with the hammer or chisel. Whereas what you’re saying here is to give the user the same tools that we have. Is that accurate, or am I going a little too off on the metaphor?

Juuli Kiiskinen: No, I think it’s actually a pretty interesting statement, and I somewhat agree. I think that we, designers and developers, are in control of what is being made. And the issue is that for a lot of the things that we make, there are now tools designed for normal people to use. I think that you’re too egoistic as a designer if you think that the things that you do can’t be done by somebody who hasn’t been to the school of design or so.

I think that we have to start thinking about what is the value that we create. And the value that I create now, I think, is much more than just design.

For example, I was making this visual consisting of a lot of different images, and it took me a couple of hours as I was using Photoshop. My partner, who is really into Instagram, was looking at me like: “What, what are doing?” and I was like: “I’m trying to make this image full of other images.” And then she was like: “Hey, I have an app for that.”  Then she put the pictures to that application and then waived the phone. And there was one picture with multiple pictures, and then she was like: “Is this good?” And I was like, “Nah, I’m not sure.” Then she did it again, waived the phone, and there was another one, and I was like, “Yeah, well, you know, we may be running out of jobs in a couple of years, but it’s good that you are able to do that in five minutes.” 

John Biggs: So, we can go back to the idea of Creatopy, for example, that is basically a tool that lets a guy like me, who has some rudimentary skills with the understanding of fonts, colors and positioning but definitely not the depth and breadth that you have make junk, right? Just junk that can go on the internet. I always say today’s blog post or today’s podcast is tomorrow’s fish wrapper.

Juuli Kiiskinen: Yeah.

John Biggs: We’re just here to create content forever, and ever, we’re writing blog posts. But where does the designer end up in this? In this position, when they have a tool that can do that instantaneously when they have a tool that can make your dog look like a Van Gogh painting or your grandma look like a Rubens automatically?

Juuli Kiiskinen: I think that in the context where I work, the ultimate goal is to drive value. And I don’t achieve that by doing everything myself, but I’m more in the position now where I, for example, try to teach other people in our team, which consists of developers and marketing people, know how they can do the same things that I do when making, let’s say, banners. So, my goal is to show them how, for example, by using Creatopy, they can do some of the things that I do without me being there. That, in the end, gives me more time to focus on something that brings even more value.

So, I think that this is the beginning of a designer turning more into a business person, at least in my case.

Design is just one of the tools that I use for driving more sales, and it could be a tool for anybody else to do those things that I do.

John Biggs: It’s very similar to what almost everybody else is dealing with right now. Almost everybody is a business person, from artists to writers and photographers. The tools used to get in the way back in the old days of 2008. You needed a big camera and all that other good stuff. Now anybody can be a photographer, so how do you make your money by being the best kind of photographer, best commercial photographer, or commercial designer. I’m just fascinated by that concept.

Are you seeing your peers dealing with the same thing, or are they holding onto the old ways?

Juuli Kiiskinen: I think that I want to be a little bit provocative here, but there is a problem of us designers, and the whole designer community, being so much in our own bubble. Let’s say that when you look at, for example, Dribbble or Behance or whatever, the things that get the biggest amount of attention or likes are usually things that are beautiful to the eye of the designer community. But the thing that I would like to question whether they are the best in terms of business. One good example is Amazon. Let’s say if you had designed the Amazon look, would you put it to your designer portfolio in Dribbble? I guess you wouldn’t because it’s not the visually top-notch thing right now.

John Biggs: You’re suggesting that Jeff Bezos is not a good designer?

Juuli Kiiskinen: Yeah, but what is being a good designer? Because I think that, again, in the business context, as a designer being in the center of the business, Jeff Bezos is one of the best designers because he obviously drove sales. So, I would put that to my portfolio instantly, but I’m just saying that I’m not sure that everybody would put that in their portfolio. I’m not sure.

John Biggs: I mean you could imagine, that being the case because if you, as a designer, you’d want to crow about the fact that millions of people look at your website per second and that is still readable, still stable, etc. Is that consideration, or is aesthetic beauty still a consideration?

Juuli Kiiskinen: I think that there is a time for beauty, but there is a time for something like the preservation of beauty. Definitely, these aren’t those situations, but I believe that you should think: “Is this what we want?” When designing a website or whatever, is beauty really the thing that should be in the core of design? I hope the answer is no, for most of the designers.

Beauty is obviously a plus, I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter if every element makes sense and so, but beauty is just the icing on the cake. It’s important, but it shouldn’t be the starting point.

John Biggs: Our last question is pretty philosophical. Does this mean that the world gets uglier, or do moments of beauty become more transcendent?

Juuli Kiiskinen: That is a very good question. Well, if you think about it from the political side, I’m not sure about it. But if you think about the world from the visual perspective, I hope that it would not be the visual perception of designers. So, I hope that more people would be taking their space in what they perceive as beautiful.

And I think that we, designers, are constantly being surrounded by other designers. Whether we work in design teams, or we spend time on the internet, on Dribbble, we are always among other designers. So, in my opinion, we tend to have a different perspective on what a beautiful design is. Design is something that everybody should take part in.


We love what Juuli said about bringing value to the industry with your work. We live in a fast-paced technological age, so we have to start thinking about the real value of what we create. Just think about this next time you have to make some new design decisions. 

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The Drag & Drop Show is an original series created by Creatopy.

 

Diana Bolboaca
Communications and Outreach Team Leader at Creatopy, passionate about creating meaningful connections and partnerships. When not swapping emails, I chase contemporary art and consume what most people would define as “too much music”. Drop me a line at [email protected]

2 Comments

  1. Hello Congratulations on the series of texts, I loved the content, I really think that Design should serve an end and not be the end in itself.
    I liked the text so much that I translated it for my audience, referencing your blog. If you want I can send you a link showing how it was. I think excellent content like yours should reach the maximum possible people.

  2. Hi Sergio, we’re happy to hear that you liked this episode, thanks for tunning in!

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