This month, the San Francisco chapter of the Interaction Design Association is hosting a talk about interaction design and advertising. My initial reaction was one of horror―not because I hate advertising (I don’t), but because I feel there is a crucial difference between design and advetising, and it is the same difference as between art and design, and that is intent.
I want to note that this is not advertising bashing. I appreciate a good ad as much as anyone, and know advertising is an important part of the product ecosystem, as well as helps fund products themselves. I also realize many talented people make their living doing advertising, and this is no critique of them.
At its core, however, advertising is about two things: making consumers aware of a product, and convincing them to purchase/use said product. It is about about what can be gotten from the consumer, using their wants and needs to make a product desirable. As noted above: this isn’t a bad thing, just the reality.
Design, however, is about what can be done for the user. It is a service, really. How can I make this person’s life easier, more efficient, better? Advertising promises this, design has to deliver on it. The reason for doing design is different than the reason for doing advertising. Design doesn’t just use customer needs for gain (although profit is assuredly a by-product of doing design well), but tries to address them for the user’s benefit.
The same is true of art. Art is about conveying a personal message. Its intent is not to convince or serve its “customers,” but can be about confronting them, or comforting them, or any number of other messages.
So, yes, I do feel a design association is the wrong place to discuss advertising, just as it is the wrong place to discuss art (except in how the tools of both could be used to make better products). Even if it looks like two professionals are doing the same thing (making a Flash movie, for instance), the intent for making that movie could be completely different, and that makes all the difference.