Anna Hergert, Art & Design

Decyphering Design, Part I – The Definition

I teach a lot! I am not a quilt teacher but rather consider myself a textile artist who shares the elements and principles of design with those who desire to step out of the box. The question “What is design?” comes up in regular intervals, and when I teach a weekend workshop with the focus on design I begin with a short lecture.

Today’s post is the first in a series. Let’s begin with the official definition of Design. The word itself refers to visual organization and composition. To design is to create a road map or strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique or original expectation. Essentially it outlines the specifications, plans, parameters, process and what to do within social, environmental, safety and financial constraints to meet the set objective. Sounds a little “over the top”? Relax and let’s analyze this complex sentence:

As an artist (no matter what your medium may be) your goal is to create original work. To create such original work it is important to devise a plan which considers the time it will take, the money required, and the process to engage. Anticipating the process we have to think about safety for ourselves, others involved in the project and the impact we may have on the environment (studio, neighborhood, community).

Most of my students will pose the famous question “How long does it take you to create a piece?”. Considering the above paragraph everyone realizes that there is no easy answer to the simple question. When I begin a new body of work or just one piece for a specific challenge I rarely “know” all the factors involved. I begin with careful research, then keep notes and small drawings to capture a concept into a sketchbook. From these initial drawings and notes my final goal evolves. And there are times that I abandon one concept to embrace another that emerged from the research, notes and drawings. This is the process of design. Flexibility is very important – I have learned not to force an idea, but to remain open to new concepts and avenues.

Once I reach the decision which design to translate into fabric I make a list considering the materials needed, therefore covering the financial commitment. Next I set an approximate time line. The materials determine the time line somewhat. For example: If I have to dye fabric it is faster than adding stitch resist (for texture) to the fabric before immersing it into the dye pot. How much time will be required to create individual components toward the complete art piece? Will I have to cut by hand or rotary cutter? Will I spend much time sitting at the sewing machine? Are there many repetitive tasks that require me to build in exercise time to combat the stress imparted on my body? I know: I am sounding a little too serious! But don’t laugh: One of my larger works created twelve years ago “gifted me” with permanent Rotator cuff injury to my right shoulder. It flares up regularly and I have to anticipate a possible slow down to a project, all part of the design plan.

As you can see for yourself, the definition originally so complex is easily broken down and makes more sense now. I have not touched on the environmental impact yet. Let’s briefly go back to the topic of dyeing: We have to consider water consumption, the impact the dye may or may not have on us (follow safety precautions at all time!), and safe disposal of chemicals. You get the picture – everything is interconnected when designing! It makes us more aware and helps us in planning individual steps. Getting into the habit of creating a timeline will help in the future with commissions. Suddenly commissions are not nearly as daunting!?

Feel free to weigh in with your experiences and questions by leaving a comment! Make sure to check back on Thursday when I begin to elaborate on the Elements and Principles of Design.



This entry was published on October 16, 2012 at 10:29 am. It’s filed under Art, Design, Studio / Workshop / Creative Space Challenge and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Decyphering Design, Part I – The Definition

  1. Pingback: A Thought About Evergreen Content | Anna Hergert, Art & Design

  2. Great reading material Anna. I will be following your blog from here on in….. :>) Joyce


  3. Your explanation of “design” does make it sound a bit simpler that the traditional definition, however it still seemed a bit daunting to me. I seem to “design” by a kind of “fly by the seat of my pants” method. But hey, then I stopped to think that even when I do that, I consider all the things that you mentioned, i.e. do I have enough time, do I have the right materials, do I need to dye any fabric, do I need to order any supplies, do I need to…..and the list goes on.

    I found your post informative and helpful. I’m glad I stumbled onto it through CQA/ACC blog. I’ll be watching this series with interest.


    • Thank you for visiting my blog, Renate! I am glad to see that listing my blog with CQA/ACC has brought more visitors.
      I am not trying to make design sound simpler as such – my goal is to provide another way to approach this very complex subject. Design is all around us and appears to be the buzz word of the decade. We hear about design when we decorate our homes, landscape the yard, plan the garden – just turn on your TV… I use the word “design” as a synonym for “composition”, both demand an initial plan and the fact that one must be organized – physically, in thought and with their time… then there are the elements and principles which I will try to break down into easy to understand segments. I hope this series will help!


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