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Articles by Chris A. Paschke, CPF GCF

"The Design Process: The Essence of Design"

January 1994

Have you ever viewed the results of a framing competition and wondered why a particular piece won over another one? Why do you have days when it seems like every presentation you make to a client works well and on other days nothing goes well at all? Maybe the sun was in your eyes, you're having a bad day or there just aren't mat board colors to match the ink in a particular print. It could actually be you don't truly understand the basic structural principles of good layout and design. Successful design involves a project or problem, an approach or plan, a process and a vision and since framing is such an integral portion of the presentation of artwork it must have a unified appearance.

Visual Design

There is a distinct difference between art and design. "Art" undergoes an aesthetic experience in which it's primary purpose is as a form of arouse some sort of viewer response. Visual design, such as in framing, also has an explicit purpose, one specifically required to relate to the art!

The relationship of art to design is intimately related and is the result of a series of specific elements and factors governing the creation and development of both art and design. The "elements" of line, color, texture, shape, intensity, and space are the ingredients with which the artist or designer works. The "factors", sometimes referred to as principles, of scale, unity, emphasis, balance, and rhythm are the directions for combining them in an aesthetic way. Visual design then is the organization of materials and forms in such a way as to fulfill a specific purpose, this purpose for framers would be enhancing and protecting artwork through framing.

The Design Process

I've said previously that framers are problem solvers and although most truly original designs are fairly intuitive, the formal process of layout and design is both conscious and subconscious. The actual steps of the formal design process can be quite orderly and technical in manner, almost scientific. It involves problem solving through a series of five basic steps; definition, creativity, analysis, production, and clarification. So how do we know when a particular chosen design or layout will work or is right?

We must first establish the definition of what the specific project or problem is we have to solve. When a print or photo is brought in to us we assume it is to be framed, but how can we best frame it might be more the specific definition. This translates easily into the selection of basic traditional mat and moulding using corner samples to enhance the desired artwork.

The creativity stage immediately follows the definition of the project and is the point where the framer/designer's imagination is stimulated. Will the framed presentation be traditional in approach or will it become the true focal point of a newly decorated room, understated or outspoken? Pushing to extremes beyond the merely predictable use of a single mat, may produce wonderful and surprising results (and in turn greater profits). Creatively you might consider marbled papers, wrapped mats, deep bevels or stacked mouldings; this is where you must "sell up" to the maximum framing potential.

Analysis of the project by applying any preset rules and required guidelines is the next step. The framer must at this point take into account the statistics of time allotted, cost limitations, and the actual purpose of the framing. Analyzing the project establishes the materials required as in conservation framing and potential problem areas such as the solution required for supporting a 5# pistol or proper mounting for a Christening dress.

The actual production or execution of the project comes next and is quite simply carrying out the decisions made during the previous steps of definition, creativity and analysis. The designer must then finalize the completion of his undertaking through the clarification stage. For a framer this merely translates into the final overview and self appraisal of the framing project prior to presenting it to the customer. Are all the dust particles out, is the glass clean and are the mats properly other words is it perfect?

These five steps or stages of design development are rather unconscious in nature and rarely noted as individual stages, but understanding the intellectual development often clarifies and simplifies the potential mysteries surrounding the concept of design. Perhaps if during the clarification stage you wish you had used a different decorative procedure or color...maybe the guidelines or restrictions set up during analysis were not stringent enough.

Design Integrity

The quality of a design that makes it a unique expression of its time, designer or creator is called "integrity". It is a quality or state of being a unit or whole, complete. Understanding the advantages and limitations of specific materials to be used contributes to the integrity and effectiveness of a design, for framers it would be knowing the predictability of mounting tissues, acid-free and buffered boards, UV glazings etc.

Designer integrity as a framer may come from years of successful, dynamic framing, winning competitions or simply establishing a state-of-the-art facility that clients respect through your showcasing of continuing education press releases and professional accreditation.

Elements of Frame Design

There are a number of singular elements and factors that comprise the "whole" of a well organized and controlled artistic design or in this particular case a framing design. The elements are often considered the psychological portions, those which the artist, designer or framer actually has control over and for that reason will vary with individual tastes.

In relation to design there are six basic elements to be considered including line, color, texture, shape, intensity/value and space. These make up the available raw materials, ingredients or bricks of a design equation which will be mortared into a finished presentation. In framing, these six elements are best recognized through the appearance and visual feel of individual moulding, mat board, fabric, paint, pigment, decorative paper and artwork.

Factors of Frame Design

In addition to the basic design elements there are also four to five design factors. They are the more physical organizers or the mortar that holds the design together. As applied to framing they relate strongly to the initial facts that may need to be figured into a framing design such as artwork size, period, visual customer image and eventual room placement. Most framers do ask their customers what style or period of furniture they have or what color the walls are, to help establish guidelines as part of the analysis of the design problem.

The basic factors which need to be considered include size/scale, style/unity, placement/emphasis, proportion/balance and rhythm. They are the portion of the design principles that hold the elements together into a visually cohesive unit through a controlled, organized and well integrated presentation. The factors are not a series of steadfast laws or mandatory rules, but rather guidelines developed to assist in completing a more harmonized or unified project. Design very much like often in the eye of the beholder. Therefore designs will greatly vary from framer to framer, and this is often decided during the creativity stage.


By concentrating on the concept of limiting the variable elements of design to 3-5 integrated concepts rather than attempting to encompass all of them, you stand to have a much stronger design. "Less is more" is a very good phrase to remember for too many things happening within a frame are distracting and will generally draw the viewer's eye away from the artwork rather than into it. In framing, the relationships of the more esoteric or emotional elements of line, color, texture, shape, and intensity often vary greatly with personal taste while often the more static factors of size, style, placement and proportion often remain much more similar and quite often fairly traditional.

Now return to my initial opening questions, being that you better understand the process and principles you may have already determined a weak design is often the result of perhaps too many elements. Clutter will only lead to "overdesigning" for too much of a good thing is not good. To determine a successful design, often a winning design, technical ability and craftsmanship will also need to be considered once again determined during the clarification process. Even with the control of no more than five design principles, a potentially good design could still lose a competition or at least place lower on the scale if it is not technically well executed.

Part One Summary

As framers we are enlisted to create an environment for a piece of artwork, photo or object. As designers we must work towards visually enhancing, showcasing or working in a unified manner with the art, but never detracting or drawing the eye away from it.

This is the beginning, part one of my year long series on understanding the principles, process and development of layout and design for framers. I will be breaking the principles of layout and design down into monthly articles capitalizing on the individual elements and factors of design and present to you a very basic "framer friendly" version of the basics. As we explore the elements and factors that make up the "principles of design" it will all become clearer.

Design is a basic concept surrounding us in everything we touch, see and enjoy. As you learn more about focal point, emotional stimulus and designer control you will begin to recognize some of the freedoms and limitations you have as an artist/framer and therein lies the secret to successful framing designs.

See you next month with Part Two: Line.

Copyright © 1994 Chris A Paschke

For more articles on mounting basics look under the mounting section in Articles by Subject.
Additional information on all types of mounting is found in:
The Mounting and Laminating Handbook, Second Edition, 2002,
The Mounting And Laminating Handbook, Third Edition, 2008 and
Creative Mounting, Wrapping, And Laminating, 2000 will teach you everything you need to know about getting the most from your dry mount equipment and materials as an innovative frame designer.

All books are available from Designs Ink Publishing through this website.

Chris A Paschke, CPF GCF
Designs Ink
Designs Ink Publishing
785 Tucker Road, Suite G-183
Tehachapi, CA 93561
P 661-821-2188