This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Understanding the difference between structure and content in design

The vast majority of my students don't understand the difference between structure and content. Since I teach structure, not content, that means that the vast majority of my students either fail to understand what I am presenting, or only get a dim idea of it. People who understand structure can go on to do anything, people who get hung up on content will always get stuck and fall behind.

Unfortunately, even when I define the difference between structure and content, my students who are distracted by content get quickly lost. But I have never given up, even though I've been teaching for, uh, over fifteen years! Teachers are like that. Stubborn.

Look at your coffee cup right now. The structure is the cup itself, its size, its shape, its color. The content is what's in it, which could be coffee, of water, or whiskey. And I really don't care too much about the content. If you were going to learn about designing a coffee cup, you would have to get past what's inside of it. If you're off on a tangent, thinking about how whether you like or dislike coffee, or whiskey, I've lost you. That's the content. You are probably puzzling out why the design class you signed up for is teaching you about coffee? whiskey?

Take a look at a web page about dogs. The structure is the size of it, the way the elements are arranged, the colors, the fonts, the photos. If all you see is the content and are saying, "I really don't like dogs", you are failing to see the structure. The dogs don't matter to the structure. Of course, you have to have dogs for the page to make any sense, but it could be penguins, or golf, or, well, any content at all.

To my students who see structure, I am wonderful. To my students who only see content, they think I am an idiot. Why are we learning about dogs, Mr. Hall? I wish I could explain. And I will keep trying!

By the way, the structure of the drawing above is all about using the brush tool with a Wacom tablet in Adobe Illustrator. It's also about adding color by using separate layers. Oh, you don't like dogs? Waitaminute, this isn't about dogs, it's about Adobe Illustrator!