Need focus? Become a designer.

Dan Pink‘s invitation for all creative professionals to have a bias toward design has been ubiquitously answered.

From typeface to homes to furniture to websites to hospital rooms to bathtubs, both form and function are being considered at every turn. It seems like we’re in the golden age of design. Interface designers like the folks at Readability is one of my current favorites – for a quick primer, check out this video (and the post script at the very bottom)…

The ability to remove distraction to yield maximum focus is brilliant. It’s the same reason why I often use Omm when I’m writing. Since anything that’s scarce has more value, and since the ability to focus is so rare (mainly because of distraction), these kinds of well designed solutions are pure gifts.

All this got me thinking about design’s implications on mediums like photography.

When I think about the function of photography for example, I’ve always believed that the purpose of great images (especially of people) is to expedite the process of telling great stories. It’s why the cliché “a picture’s worth a thousand words” has such resonance. But what else? What if the image itself was more of a starting point – like a prop or a cue – to help get to an even bigger and better story… like great wine with a meal or a score to a movie… how might photography be designed to take a moment and make it even more functional and thus more powerful?

Annie Leibovitz‘s famous and iconic 1980 Rolling Stone cover of John Lennon with Yoko Ono, photographed five hours before his tragic murder is an example of what I’m describing. Of course, the image is impressive in and of itself. What makes it a launch pad for so much more though is the story that gets told from it. It’s as though the image itself was designed with form and function in mind… and as the drama unfolded, the value of the creation increased dramatically.

In a way, my example could be dismissed as unfair because a story told in retrospect is always easier to attribute meaning to it. But, I’m no less intrigued by the possibility of taking photographs with a designer’s biasto imagine and compose and capture a work that expands what’s possible with a photograph (function) in a form that causes the audience to pause (aesthetic).

To me, it’s a compelling argument that validates Pink’s suggestion that a core ingredient to raising the bar for all industries (including photography) is to reframe our work not just as image makers but also as designers.

- Dane

PS… If you want to see Readability in action, click the red chair on a couple of these articles – it really makes reading a treat…

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