Article Title

What Makes Good Art, Design, And Business?

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South Africa

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What makes design good? What makes art good? What makes work and business inherently good? To do good work, and create good work is something that we all want to do, right? We also want to be told that we have done something good, created something that people like and want. We want to know that we have truly built a good business.

One thing we all have in common, no matter what race or religion, is that we work and we build. This is something that humans do, something we have always done. Wherever we arrive, we build, we organise and re-organise.

Depending on your philosophical or spiritual outlook, human beings have an interesting relationship with the earth. We see ourselves as either benefactors, caretakers or a little bit of both. I, for one, believe that we should take care of it exactly because it sustains us and, more than that, that we are not in fact separate from it.

Others do not share my view.

Humanity, for the most part, has seen nature as something other than us. Something that needs to be tamed, subdued, controlled and used. Unfortunately, used quickly turns into abused. I recently read that one of the biggest conversations (read arguments) that countries around the arctic region are having is who gets to mine there now that the melting ice caps have exposed the earth.

Seriously, that is the biggest question? Who gets the gold?

Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.

That’s a Cree Indian Prophecy.

Obviously, that is not good, and not good work. So, how do we not create more harm than good, how do we build and design something that is good, even if we decide to keep on mining the ice caps?

As someone from a design background and a bit of an art geek, I think the answer might lie in how we think about design and art, and when and why it is good.

Artists and designers speak about their work in a very particular way, a way which I have always liked. They refer to their ‘work’, using the word as a noun. It is an object outside of themselves, sitting separate from them, some-thing they created that can be seen, used, experienced or critiqued.

Now, not all design is good and not all art is good (I often get into trouble for daring to critique either). Still, I believe that art and design can be judged as objectively good or not so good work.

The question then is, what makes work ‘good’ in design and art? There are, in my opinion, at least three boxes that need to be ticked (beyond technique and skill), that makes a work objectively good.

It is True

Good work has true intent.

The motivation behind the work is honest, true and authentic.

Good work is not fake.

Good work does not have ulterior motives or agendas.

It Belongs

Good work has a sense of place to it, it belongs to a certain place and or time.

It has terroir.

Good work is contextual, it draws inspiration from its surroundings.

Good work is relevant, it resonates without having to declare itself relevant.

It speaks the vernacular; it is in constant conversation or argument with the world it lives in.

It Creates Movement

Good work moves the people that engage with it.

It moves the forward, adding the necessary to their lives or subtracting the unnecessary.

When people have engaged with good work, they leave changed.

Good work changes the way people live and view their lives.

So, for us wanting to design and build good businesses, and wanting to take seriously the idea that we are not only custodians of the earth, but also of one another perhaps we can learn something from the artists and designers and create work that is truly good.

Work that is true, belongs and creates movement.


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