The Graphic Artist’s Guild defines a graphic designer as a “visual problem solver,” a graphic artist as a “visual artist working in a commercial area” and an art director as someone whose responsibilities include supervising the “quality and character of visual work.” Only a creative director, who they define as one “whose responsibilities may include overall supervision of all aspects of the character and quality of the (advertising) agency’s work for its client” even comes close to what I think a designer should be.
To me, design is a communication art and the people who practice it should be held, or hold themselves, to a far higher standard than the terms imply. Following are the standards I aspire to and hope, someday, to halfway achieve:
Graphic design is more than meets the eye
The purpose of design is to communicate an idea. It is as much, if not more, about function as it is about looks. It is as much intellectual and visceral as it is visual. If you don’t have a clear, well designed message, you don’t have a design. Design is marketing, marketing is design.
Graphic design is about communicating benefits and solutions
Ready to start a new project? Ask yourself this: Why does a prospect look at your web page, your app, or your brochure? Is it because they want to know what you want? What you need? Is it because they want to help you out?
Not if you’re living on the same planet I am. No matter what you’re selling or giving away, if I am your prospect, I want to know what’s in it for me. I have hard-earned money or time to invest and I rarely part with either without the promise of some return. Are you going to entertain me? Educate me? Inspire me? Solve my problems? If you agree with that, you won’t create any design or marketing message that doesn’t focus on clearly communicating those benefits and solutions.
Graphic design is not about graphic designers
Poof! On your left shoulder appears a miniature version of you with wings and a halo, on the right, a version with a pitchfork and horns. The good designer pleads “Create a design that answers your client’s needs.” The bad designer commands “Don’t be a schmuck—design something that’ll look good in your portfolio.” Who you listen to determines whether you’re working to create an image for your client or trying to shoehorn them into yours.
Graphic design is not an ocean it’s a fishbowl
The design of a piece for a small business is much different than a piece for a Fortune 500 corporation. Design and marketing ideas are not always interchangeable—be careful about the principles you apply and how you apply them. For example, image advertising for a small business with a tiny budget is silly. Image advertising requires a long term commitment—months or even years to get the exposure necessary to gauge the value. Likewise, advertising your law firm by stuffing fliers under windshield wipers is equally as ridiculous.
Graphic design is creating something you believe in
The saying goes something like this: “Great advertising will kill a poor product faster than no advertising at all.” The same is true with design—good design will attract an audience faster than poor design. If the product stinks, more people will find out faster and stop buying it. I’ve lost more than one project because it was obvious that the client was on the wrong track or the ethics of the players left something to be desired. Step away rather than compromise your values.