The Design Cake and The Famous 20 to 80 Proportion

A very good mentor in design once told me that the truest of the greats focus on the icing of their cake more than everything else. If peo...

A very good mentor in design once told me that the truest of the greats focus on the icing of their cake more than everything else.

If people look at your artwork, it's as if they're only able to view the tip of the iceberg. The invisible bottom half would be likened to your methodology, hard work, time and financials. What gathers people's attention, at least initially is the output. This alone will make or break your impression's impact. Through the years I've also likened this example to another inequality. With our advancements in style, technology and capability, less and less things are being considered as truly original to an artist. The bottom half of the iceberg now contains material experimentation, 3D modeling, previously novel processes and many more factors that were once unique. The bar has been raised higher, allowing society to expect a higher innovation from today's already pressured artist generations.

For this post, let's compare a work of design or art to a simple butter cake. Truth be told, when baking a butter cake, 80% of the work goes into the layered ingredients; the body. All everyone ever sees however is the surface layer which is optimally designed for attention. This icing top-layer comprises about 20% of the labor by mass and logic standards. Most people abide by the rule of logic and spend 80% of their time on the body, and 20% of their time on the icing design. Generally most butter cakes taste vaguely the same. At least let's assume that for this example. There is a problem with putting 80% of your all creative effort into something that is common and done by everybody. Everybody does it. It's logic.

But what if you've got the recipe covered? You know that butter cakes all have basically the same taste and texture, and you've learned how to replicate the "bulk" accurately and easily. Then you could reverse the proportion. You could use 20% of your time on the body, and focus a whole 80% of your time on the element that people see and evaluate. Now, wouldn't that be something.

In college I was told that this is an uncommon practice, easily cast aside because of logical bias and reasoning. But if you really think about it.. this reversal of proportion makes just enough sense to create some curiosity in your head.

What if you could do something like this in an artwork? 20% would make up the known media, the tools and the cost, while 80% would make up the unseen, the novel idea and the "x" factor. Things like this are easy to say.. but somehow these days I keep remembering this example of my professor from Ateneo, and I can't bring myself to dismiss it as merely optimistic innovation anymore.

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