“Lexikon 82” poster for Olivetti, by Milton Glaser

The ability to make things is a gift. The ability to make things beautifully is a blessing.

I can no longer remember or attribute my most frequently quoted definition of design: “The act of moving from an existing condition to a preferred one.” The sentence itself well exemplifies its subject. It’s direct, reductive, clear, and understandable. It gracefully avoids engaging the several thousand other issues that rise to the surface when the subject comes up. Since no human activity can disengage itself from design issues, such as effectiveness, style, money, appropriateness, understandability, originality, and memorability all swarm around the subject, blurring and confusing its outlines.

Since I was a child, my own recurring question about design has been its relationship to art (beauty). At this late point in my life, I perceive them as two separate intentions that under the right circumstances can be brought together. These occasions are to be celebrated. Design and Art are independent coordinates that provide their greatest satisfactions when experienced simultaneously.

The purpose of Design is to accomplish an objective task. The purpose of Art is to help the mind understand what is real. Every once in a while, if we’re lucky and persistent, we stumble onto a solution that embodies both desires. What happiness!

This essay was published as part of AIGA’s Centennial celebration of the past, present, and future of design.