Response – The Vignelli Canon

Semantic, Syntactic and Pragmatic

Let’s examine them one at the time. Semantics, for me, is the search of the meaning of whatever we have to design.

Maybe it’s because I’m not exactly the most artistic and creative person, but I found his discussion regarding design semantics to be entirely too pompous. What happened about creating design that is merely for viewing pleasure? What about something that is enjoyable for individuals to look at and appreciate the structure/process of the image? While I certainly agree that there are powerful designs and creations that convey emotions and meanings, quotes like – “Semantics, in design, means to understand the subject in all its aspects; to relate the subject to the sender and the receiver in such a way that it makes sense to both. It means to design something that has a meaning, that is not arbitrary, that has a reason for being, something in which every detail carries the meaning or has a precise purpose aimed at a precise target.” – seems to mitigate any other creative process that has been performed. Is it possible to call these artistic creations and processes for an individuals viewing pleasure as meaningful? According to the author, no. “How often we see design that has no meaning: stripes and swash of color splashed across pages for no reason whatsoever. Well, they are either meaningless or incredibly vulgar or criminal when done on purpose.”

Mies, my great mentor said: “God is in the details.” That is the essence of syntax: the discipline that controls the proper use of grammar in the construction of phrases and the articulation of a language, Design.”

I do agree that detail and proper layout are essential for creating an beautiful/well thought out image. Simply regarding my design projects this week I worked hard to create balance within the image so that any mistakes did not overly distract from the original image.

Whatever we do, if not understood, fails to communicate and is wasted effort. We design things which we think are semantically correct and syntactically consistent but if, at the point of fruition, no one understands the result, or the meaning of all that effort, the entire work is useless.”

 I like to view a design as being pragmatic when the image is clear/understandable. Maybe it is the authors tone of writing, but I don’t view it as necessary to have to convey meaning. If there originally is meaning in an image and it fails to be conveyed, then of course there has been a disconnect between the artist and the audience, but the persistent demands that art must possess meaning and is otherwise useless if it doesn’t is not something I can agree with.

Discipline, appropriateness, ambiguity, design is one, visual power, intellectual elegance, timelessness, responsibility and equity. The author argues that all are essential to creating proper and well meaning design. I guess I grew tired of this article. I found it exhausting to read. While I understand that “Creativity needs the support of knowledge to be able to perform at its best”, it seemed contrary to me to be required to fulfill all of these requirements in order to create a successful design; it seemed to take the creativity out of it. Maybe it’s because I didn’t like his overly critical writing style (he came out really strong in the beginning), but what I got from this was that creating design responsibly can suck the fun out of the creative process.