Self Portrait of Alan Just

I’m on a quest.

Let me ask you something: what, precisely, am I peddling here? What spectacle have I crafted that’s worth stealing a moment of your time?
Yes, there is an Art and Design portfolio, and it might just provoke a gasp of surprise or two. And yes, I could be an excellent candidate if you’re thinking about hiring someone like me.
But, at this point, I’m trading in something a bit more profound. I’m selling insight into a costly business process, the unfortunate marriage of business jargon parading around in the costume of Art and Design speak.
The cringe is all too real when I look back at my rookie days of Design reviews and Art critiques. The jumbled soup of words I used to stir—blush-worthy, to say the least!
So, let’s take a little journey together, shall we? Let’s walk down two lanes of thought. The first: the haphazard use of language that seeks to enhance and guide the process of Design. The second: the meshing of Art, Design, and Decorative Art, confusing and conflating concepts that share similarities but are fundamentally different.
Now, let me share a sampler of clichés and jargon, often bandied about in formal and informal reviews and critiques when offering feedback to Artists and Designers. These are typically vague and unhelpful, often straying far from the guiding light of Design principles:
Expressions like “think outside the box,” which, really, is just a covert rejection packaged as encouragement. Or, “I’m not comfortable going forward,” which is nothing more than a plea to see more options with no guarantee of satisfaction. The overuse of terms like “customer-facing.” Or hollow assertions like “our customer tells us…” without supporting data. And let’s not forget the ever-popular, “We know this look sells,” or better yet, “It needs to pop!” which, sure, works fine if you’re selling candy or cereal.
Here’s my personal favorite: “It needs to be more on-trend.” meaning it doesn't match their perfectly curated Pinterest board.
I could go on, but we must confront the reality that many of these critiques are self-referential, focusing more on the reviewer than the work being reviewed. It’s often an elaborate charade to hide a lack of substance.
So, what really needs to change to enhance a Design’s memorability and drive sales? After all, that’s why we perform critiques and reviews in the first place. That’s the real question. More often than not, what their feedback implies is, “There’s something about this Design that makes me uneasy. Change it.” unfairly leaving it up to the designer to know what that is.
The most effective feedback is specific, actionable, and relates directly to Design principles or elements. It’s imperative to discuss designs in terms of contrast, alignment, repetition, proximity, balance, color, typography, and other specific aspects of Design.
And, more challenging is the universal confusion around the terms Art, Design, and Decorative Art.
I’ve come to realize that many people, including my past self, use vocabulary that verges on nonsense when discussing Art, Design, and Decorative Art. My goal is to clarify these terms and how they differ from one another.
Are these different labels for the same activity and purpose? Or do they vary significantly enough to warrant clear boundaries? And what’s the price of remaining uninformed?
I’ve penned three exciting articles that break down the muddle between Art, Design (learn more about the differences), and Decorative Art. It bugs me how their definitions and terms get all mixed up. During business gatherings for instruction or feedback, jargon is frequently used out of context, whether borrowed from fashion, corporate speak, or any field where ‘Design’ tags along at the end, much to everyone’s confusion. More often than not, this leads to creating unclear or unengaging messages and images, wasting everyone’s time and resources.
My aim is to demystify these differences for you. Two groups stand to benefit greatly from this knowledge:
  1. Those responsible for purchasing, managing, or directing marketing and sales materials (indeed, design and artwork function as business tools).
  2. Designers, illustrators, and artists hired by the first group to produce marketing and sales materials.
Let’s be frank here. Nobody benefits when the first group uses unclear terminology to guide the efforts of designers or artists. Offering instructions or feedback that amounts to gibberish incurs emotional and financial costs. And it’s somewhat ironic that most designers and artists could use some clarity on these distinctions, further exacerbating the confusion.
The most significant way to overcome this bottleneck is to MASTER THE VOCABULARY AND LANGUAGE of Art and Design, and use it in the proper context! It's important not to pretend or fake your understanding as this can lead to further issues down the road.
In my experience, many individuals who do not have formal training in design or art may need to realize they lack knowledge when providing feedback or making comments. They may believe they are offering assistance, but it’s essential to be aware of one’s limitations and seek to expand one’s understanding.
Recent research in behavioral psychology sheds light on this common problem - misunderstanding due to varied interpretations of the same word. One enlightening study states, “Even when two individuals use the same word, they do not necessarily agree on its meaning.”
Delving further into this topic, a fascinating Scientific American article presents the surprising variability in people’s understanding of even a simple concept such as ‘Penguin.’
Clear and succinct communication leads to superior Design and Artwork at a predictable and productive pace, making the experience emotionally satisfying for all parties involved.
To clarify the distinctions, Artwork created in the service of Design or decoration is called Illustration or Decorative Art. Conversely, Fine Art, or Art, serves a different purpose. The confusion arises because all three categories abide by the same visual rules of color, scale, and composition. They use the same materials, tools, and techniques, too. It’s easy to be confused.
I hope that what I’ve jotted down will turn those art critiques and design reviews into something more enjoyable and valuable. I’ve also dropped in some references (and links) to some folks who are really into this kind of thing.
Caveat emptor: The moment you think your creation is absolutely spot-on, or just perfet, a “friend” drops a note to tell you that you’ve misspelled “perfect”. Buyer beware!
This site will often change, always trying to improve and communicate clearly. You’ve heard of second chances. Well, more often than not, I need a third, fourth, fifth…
I hope that you will revisit it often and share it with someone needing enlightenment.