Art & Design

Absolute Bull: how Picasso can teach us to be better designers

3 minute read 

How Picassos’ series of simple and brilliant bull sketches can teach us about creating better user experience.

Picasso’s most monumental works were behind him when in December 1945 he created a unique series of small lithographs that caused me to have an epiphany.

Picasso’s most renowned artistic periods of Cubism, Surrealism and the War period culminating in Guernica, each described the world very differently. For an artist to have so many ways of seeing is remarkable.

With the overwhelming number of reproductions of his paintings, it’s easy to ignore how accomplished he was as a draftsman and sketch artist. He challenged the brilliance of Rembrandt in his rendering of emotion and truth in the tiniest of sketches. He said so much with so little. There is very little crap in his art. It’s gutsy, expressing what he was feeling at this point in his career.

Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.

The ‘Bull’ series of lithographs show how exceptional his mind was in being able to analyse and deconstruct what he saw around him, laying bare the essential forms of the world. He comes across more as a scientist, paring away, going deeper, getting underneath the surface.

The eleven ink on stone lithographs, show the artistic decomposition of the bull, from a fully realised sketch to schematic geometric lines.

Picasso Bull Series

We can only speculate what the bull meant to Picasso. Meanings vary from fascism, virility to power; yet what’s important about this work, is not the symbolism, but the elegant process of stripping back the world, while still keeping it recognisable and functional.

There are two opposing/complementary forces as I see it in my work as a designer and creative; ‘minimalism’, with a desire to create a message that is clear and unambiguous and then, ‘ornamentation’, which creates an emotional impact that may be more ambiguous, yet is possibly far more interesting.

These lithographs make me constantly view how honest I am as a designer when trying to balance these two styles. Honesty is not meant in a journalistic sense of searching for the objective truth but reviewing how honest I am in making creative decisions.

When it comes to product design, it makes me ask questions:

  • How detailed do I think a product needs to be to succeed?
  • Does shedding a product of its aesthetic qualities create a better experience or offer a less rounded experience?
  • Can a product be too simple, or can this be a selling point when competitors offer much more.

In practice, this means stripping out needless complexity, and in doing research to make sure that proposed functionality will be used. The focus is on reducing the demands placed on users. On being brave, and ripping out features, that were carefully considered at the time, if they are adding complexity.

It might be just a sketch of an old bull, far removed from the realities of the present, but it’s the ultimate design manifesto on how to be a good and honest designer. It should be pinned to every creative’s wall.


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