A friend who teaches a college-level design course bought a walls-worth of small frames and invited fifty designers to contribute a piece of work. The idea being, to provide future students with nuggets of motivation and inspiration. This phrase, an opinion near and dear to my heart, is one I would like every young designer to hear. (I wish someone had told me early on.)
Commercial graphic design is not self-expression. It is, rather, about promoting ideas, products, and services with honesty, clarity, and style.
Take a look at your design portfolio. Does piece one for client A have distinct similarities to piece one for client B? By that I mean, do the pieces share similar concepts and/or layouts? Do the same typefaces, color palettes, and types of imagery appear project after project? Is there a “look and feel” that permeates everything you do? If so, I pose there could be a problem.
Why? Because each client deserves a unique solution to their specific problem. We should not be shoe-horning the client into our vision, our job is to help them develop a vision of their own. (I’m not referring here to the style an illustrator or photographer develops that a client chooses to emulate.) Advertising and marketing is not about its creator, the designer. It is not even its sponsor, the client. It is about its audience, the prospects, the people we want to take notice and move to action.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when a formula solution is perfectly acceptable. Not everyone can afford the time and expense it takes to create a unique approach. As long as the client knows they are getting a formula solution to their problem, that’s fine. But even then, if we apply the same look and feel to the solution, we lessen its impact.
The truth is, the sum of a truly creative equation is never the same. When you multiply a client’s unique product, service, or idea by its one-of-a-kind audience, and add its unique position in an ever-changing market, it is virtually impossible to arrive at the same solution for any two organizations.
Here are a few ways to keep your solutions new and fresh:
1. Retain your anonymity.
Think of yourself as a ghostwriter. The challenge is to apply your skills for communicating ideas to the client’s project without anyone realizing it—to make the transfer seamless. Remember, it’s not about the designer. Our job is to raise the stock of the client in the consumer’s eyes, not to leave them wondering who designed the client’s brochure.
2. Keep your opinions to yourself.
A client project is not the place to express your personal political views, moral opinions, or to vent a provocative sense of humor. It is amateurish to base a message on material that you know will provoke a negative reaction from a significant number of a client’s prospects for nothing more than attracting attention. Let me say that again: gambling a client’s reputation for the sole purpose of attracting attention is the sign of an amateur.
To the client: Why would you ever settle for an approach that is guaranteed to turn off a significant percent of your audience? Opinionated, provocative solutions that offer no critical advantage reveal the author’s lack of creativity and marketing know-how—whether it is small design studio or one of the world’s top ten advertising agencies.
3. Keep opening new doors.
It is difficult to discover a brilliant solution for one client and restrain yourself from applying it to the next—but that is the challenge. You come in the next morning, paint over the last solution, and start with a clean canvas. To be clear, we certainly need to apply what we learn through our successes. But the gauge of a good designer is their ability to devise different approaches to similar problems.
All that said, don’t blame the messenger for the message. The reason I raise this issue is because I struggle with it myself. No one is immune from the desire to grab some of the spotlight for themselves. I simply propose you delegate self-expression to the design of your workspace, to a side business for developing your own products, and to sharing your opinion through articles, books, and blogs—that you consider the proposition that day-to-day work for clients is not the place for self.
Since writing this article in 2008, many people have contributed their thoughts about the issue and I have responded. I urge you to read through them—they add valuable perspective. And, of course, I welcome your thoughts. CHUCK
“My impression is that most people mistake “self-expression” for “self-indulgence.” Because if self-expression is the “expression of one’s […] ideas, as through speech or art” (as defined by the Free Dictionary Online), then this is what clients pay for. They pay for somebody who helps them articulate, define, and execute a project by sharing his own ideas.
If we’re talking about subjective, personal and self-indulgent work, that’s a different story. A graphic designer who uses a client’s project as an artistic playground is not going to stay in business for a long time. However, using one’s own background, personality, and ideas to solve a communication problem is an important premise because graphic designers are hired to share their unique vision to help solve a particular problem. Any other approach to a communication problem often translates into being a glorified clerk: you’re simply executing somebody’s project.
Skills don’t live in a vacuum: they belong to people who have personalities and ideas that will be expressed, almost unknowingly, through any kind of activity. Degas, for example, loved dancers because he was interested in movement. Likewise, Frank Lloyd Wright revered nature and chased every opportunity to create work rooted in a deep understanding and appreciation of nature.
Finally, the best way to avoid creating self-indulgent work is to match one’s own skills with a project. Then, self-expression won’t cast a negative light anymore, but it will be seen as central to the design process…!” SARA S.
I understand your point Sara, but let’s not confuse commercial graphic designers with artists. Artist’s engage an audience through the expression of their personal perspective. A commercial graphic designer is paid (typically) to express the perspective of their client. I’m comfortable with the semantics of the term, “self-expression.” The full definition (Free Dictionary Online) read’s, “Expression of one’s own personality, feelings, or ideas, as through speech or art.” And that is the crux of my argument. CHUCK
“True, but the execution of the client’s perspective always takes place through the expression of the graphic designer’s ideas or personality, if you like, whether it is intentional or not.!” SARA S.
“I’m really into typography, so I’m constantly looking at and purchasing new fonts, even if I don’t have a need for them. Sometimes I’ll get a little crazy about a particular font and look for excuses to use them. I have a few projects that use the same fonts because they were executed around the same time period. In my mind, both were beautiful and worked well. And maybe they still do. But it’s also highly possible I was a blinded by my love for a font instead its function within the design…!” LYNDSEY P.
I’m with you Lyndsey. I fall in love with a typeface and find myself incorporating it into everything I do. Fortunately, a very well designed typeface (Adobe Myriad for example), is to me, more of a white wall than a focal point. I can use it and control the effect of the design with other, more distinctive elements. CHUCK
“I don’t need anyone writing to me unbidden to preach cliches about the design business. In future please keep your meanderings to yourself and stay out of my inbox.” PAUL W.
“I like design because of the variety. I’ve been designing for over 17 years and I’ve seen a lot of changes in how we design, in the tools we use, and in the trends that either inspire designers or are inspired by designers. I know designers that have a “style” and I couldn’t imagine limiting myself that way. I used to work for a lady that owned a small firm and every time we discovered a new tool in the software she’d want to use it for every project… “maybe you could put a graduated screen in it” became the joke of the office. Being able to create a bright, colourful, busy piece for one client and a conservative, classic, clean piece for another in the same day is the best part of design—how could you ever get bored with a job like that?” TRISH C.
I’m with you Trish, a new software feature, the latest font, or a current trend, should not be the catalyst for a design. Ideas, definitions, and explanations are what designs should be built upon. CHUCK
“I don’t disagree with your article but it doesn’t address the possibility that clients may choose a designer because they have a certain look. In those cases, the client would actually be disappointed to get something different.” DAVE F.
That is my point. As communications designers our product is our competency to produce solutions to problems, not to propagate our personal style. Look at it through the lens of a design studio or advertising agency. In that environment, different clients are handled by different teams of people. The organization’s reputation hinges on its ability to provide a consistent level of intellectual “quality” and marketing insight, not on one type of look and feel. Certainly there is a need for creative direction, but when direction is limited by style, there’s a potential problem. CHUCK
“I’m thinking of a local designer I know… he does a lot of logos, icons, and infographics. His work has a very distinctive look and I think his clients choose him because that’s what they want…His work could almost be classified as ‘art’ though, so that might be a loophole to what you were writing about.” DAVE F.
[Note: Dave provided links to the site of the designer he mentioned. I’m not sharing those because this guy is an innocent bystander in this discussion. His work illustrates Dave’s point well—it all has a kind of mechanical, retro feel about it.]
The infographics, to me, are illustrations—very nice ones. It is the type of illustration I might commission to incorporate into a project. I might even build the piece around that theme.
His logos too, are excellent, but I think the sameness of them is limiting. With such a strong theme, I doubt someone with an audience of 40- to 50-year-old women would hire him to do design their logo. He may not even be interested in that type of work—no argument.
All that said, please, please, please, be clear about this. I am not under the illusion that I am the ideal designer, believe me, I am far from it. I am simply pointing to what I believe the ideal is. CHUCK
“I agree that all of one’s design pieces shouldn’t look the same—to a certain extent. However, a lot of people who hire me do so because they like my design style, which has been described as “clean.” I’m not saying I’m above putting in flourishes or elaborate borders etc. if warranted. But if someone hires me based on my portfolio, I assume that they like the cleanliness of my work, and would be disappointed if I present them with something that looks like it came out of a mid-90’s WIRED magazine.” PATTY W.
To me, “clean” is not a style issue, it is a foundational principle. If we were building houses, for example, we would develop and understand certain principles that would apply to all or most of the houses we built. The foundation would look the same but the architectural style of the house, the color it is painted, and so on would change from project to project. CHUCK
“Over the years I have had many conversations with young graphic designers, usually still in school, who really didn’t understand that their only job is to help their client communicate to his target audience. It isn’t about their ‘art’ or their need to show off their Photoshop skills. I agree that as designers we should be invisible, put our ego aside, and help our client shine in the marketplace.” JOHN H.
“I had this very debate with a person who is just starting out in design and he told me that design is a matter of personal taste. Sure, when you are doing your own home or landscaping or buying furniture, but when you designing a fifty thousand dollar annual report for a client, it’s not about your personal taste. It’s about the client. It’s always about the client.” JUSTIN M.
“It is most likely difficult to let go of that one precious idea you had in a long time. I used to think that if I could just use collaboration of some parts from previous design, then maybe a new client would really appreciate my idea. But soon after, I came to realize that it is indeed a true challenge of a designer for each new time, start with a clean slate.” VLADLENA M.
“Profoundly simple truth! I think our society is geared toward the celebrity rather than what’s best for all. This mindset has affected the visual art community often fraught with Prima Dona mentality. Does anyone even practice the art of listening to others and their needs any more? You have written a “paradigm shift” for the graphic and arts that should be standard measure! Your clarification with the “ways to keep solutions new and fresh” will be pinned on my board next to my computer.” BARBARA B.
“…I think that your article takes it too far, in making it sound like that the designer should have NO personal expression or inherent style of their own. I think that if you examine most freelancer’s portfolios, that you can clearly see what their personal style is… and that this is a good thing and doesn’t need to be avoided. There IS a part of our work that is artistic and is about our own personal style and vision…” ZOE H.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a designer that fills their portfolio with personal expression is a bad person. I am simply saying they severely limit their reach. To me, a good communications designer is a good manager or art director—their job is to coordinate and weave together the contributions of a group of players to achieve a result for their client. Their primary value is their ability to choose the right pieces of the puzzle and to coordinate the process, not to express themselves in the creation of the pieces. CHUCK
“I’m talking about the solo designers here, who are not combining groups of people together, and who probably as an individual artistic person, are going to have somewhat of a design identity themselves, that they bring to the table for their clients… and that this is not ‘severely limiting their reach.’” ZOE H.
Ah yes, but even solo designers need to treat each project as if they were combining the pieces. This is REALLY critical: if you limit your creative options to your own skill set you limit your ability to innovate and remain competitive. Its like saying I must be able to program every web site I design. There are a small number of people who can do both with excellence, but most of us are better served by choosing the aspect or aspects of the process we have a true gift for and focusing on that. Be the illustrator, be the photographer, be the programmer, be the writer, occasionally, but know when and how to enlist the help of others when doing so results in a better solution for the client. (Note to Chuck: Read this next time you’re working on a project and attempting to do it all yourself.) CHUCK
“I think it is important to set aside ‘self-expression’ when designing for someone else or when presenting to another group like an association or a business, etc. Self-expression should be reserved for self-promotion, when advertising yourself so others can see what you can do…for them. But, the bottom line is what you can do for them and how you can meet their needs.” SUE M.
“You’re on the right track in that you’re not leaving your own signature on your work for the sake of doing so. You use your ‘signature style’ when your client wants you to. Just make sure your client wants you to. Communicate with your client so you know what they want and guide them toward the best way to serve their audience. Remember the Vidal Sassoon slogan, “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good”? Make your client look good with a style that suits them. That’s when, as a designer, you’ll look your best.” LORI M.
“…I have struggled with how to be freshly creative every time there’s a new project. But, if I’m not willing to give my best effort to every client (or to my own organization), I have a serious problem and, as you point out, that problem ripples outwardly—and quickly. There’s plenty of rubbish design out there. No one needs me to add to the pile.” JEFF R.
“…I agree for the most part, I also disagree…The entire purpose of commercial graphic design is to convey a specific message about the product or service itself. However, when done through design, the design will ultimately carry a part of the designers personality. That part, along with the product / service, it was allows marketing pieces to remain unique and stand out in a crowded market. That is also the reason why certain designers get hired more than others…let’s face it, your personality is ALL OVER your web site, books & overall design layouts, font styles, etc. That’s what makes IdeaBook exclusively Chuck Green.” WILL R.
Yes, but I think we do best when we (including freelancers) think of ourselves as a group versus an individual. We need to know how to pull in the skills necessary when they are needed. (What you are seeing on ideabook.com is opinion and I think it is positioned as such, this type of detailed information is not something you would typically share with a client.) CHUCK
“(A) “Our job is to raise the stock of the client in the consumer’s eyes, not to leave them wondering who designed the client’s brochure.” If the design is done right—people will ALWAYS wonder who designed it (at least other business people).” WILL R.
Granted, but I view my role as a mere footnote to the clients goal. CHUCK
“(B) “A client project is not the place to express your personal political views, moral opinions, or to vent a provocative sense of humor.” Your absolutely right that it is NOT our job to post our personal views. However, let’s take a recent catastrophe that occurred with Absolut! … [you can see an article about it > HERE < Had the ad agency spoke up about common sense issues, particularly the potential of offending Absolut!’s largest marketplace, the USA, then perhaps there wouldn’t be a huge boycott of Absolut! in the USA right now. I think there is a time and place as an ad agency / design agency to speak up and ensure the client has both sides of the story. We are not here to be ‘YES’ men, we are here to offer our expertise, and this should be a part of EVERY good designers portfolio—Common Sense!” WILL R.
A great example Will, thanks. I don’t know about this case, but often, the creative teams are the responsible for initiating these ideas—I’d be interested to know where this approach originated. CHUCK
“I am the client and you are spot on accurate about your experiences, insights and bottom line conclusion. I go through the exact same thing that you’ve captured so beautifully. And even though I am on the client end, I also need to give back to my corporation what it needs for its purposes and audiences; not what I like or feel like doing. Over the decades I have had many, many challenges working with design folk. For one thing, knowing when and how you can approach them because they are so temperamental and can be ultra-sensitive about their work.” PAT O.
Thanks for this Pat. It really is easy to lose track of how the client sees this. They want a product, not a battle of wills. I fear some students are learning more about how to be artists than they are about being art directors. CHUCK
“Your second point I find most difficult. I should be “style-agnostic” but it comes out. I do my very best not to have an opinion but instead provide the design that best satisfies the flavor and specification the client requires. I try to get into the client’s ‘head’ and view the project from their creative point of view and business perspective and that helps. As for my struggle with originality, it is still a struggle and I expect that will likely continue. Maybe that is a good thing as we continue to question ourselves and our creative talent. It will keep us humble I suppose.” SABINE M.
“Creativity for hire” is complex, difficult work. Among other attributes a good designer must be a great marketer, a exceptional researcher, a competent project manager, a knowledgeable administrator, smart about money, cognoscente of the world view, sensitive to the situation, and bold enough to take risks. Oh, yeah…and you need to be creative.
My point is, creativity is a given, its the fun part. View a subject from enough angles and eventually you will find a great solution. My skills at all the other aspects of the job are what allows me the time necessary to find the solution. Sometimes I am successful at it, sometimes not. Almost alway, I have a wonderful time trying and I think my clients are well served. In the end I count my blessings that I am able to do this type of work. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t discover something that is new to me. CHUCK
“Your article provides a great challenge to any aspiring graphic designer, whether they’re new to the business or have been at it a long time. I think the key to being a good graphic designer, or even simply an adequate one, is to be a good listener. To really understand what a client wants. If they want something that looks like what I did for “Client A”, fine. If they don’t know what they want, great, I can use my own creativity, intuition and marketing knowledge to come up with something that seems to fit. If they want something and I know I can’t deliver creatively, I tell them up front so we don’t waste time and money. I admit, I struggle with having a “style” that comes out in if you look at my portfolio. It’s certainly not intentional, but often my own limitations dictate what I produce for a client as much as my creativity. I love when a project pushes me outside of my comfort zone to create something that is totally new and different, and I have been lucky to have a few of those projects. They add a lot to my portfolio, not to mention my confidence as a creator.” CHRISTY J.
I just want to be clear about what I am saying. It sounds as though you might be limiting yourself to what you alone can author. I propose that we think of ourselves more as directors and less as actors. You may have two killer illustration styles and ten powerful layout paradigms—good, use them. But if you restrict yourself to what you alone can produce, you drastically limit your potential. One thing that ensures I will not grow and expand my knowledge of design is if I stay within the confines of what I currently understand and am comfortable with. CHUCK
“From a client-side point of view, and a not very experienced one at that, I rather expect self-expression to some extent in a Designer’s work. I would choose a Designer from their portfolio and pick one whose style was appropriate for my audience. If I was retaining a Designer, or requesting new work from someone with whom I had worked before, I would bear in mind their ability to create new work in a new style, if that was what I needed. If they were a ‘one trick pony’, I would employ a new Designer.”
“For instance, I have previously worked in what used to be New Media department of a large marketing agency in London. I had a choice of a few in-house Designers and would pick the one who had completed work closest to the brief. I wouldn’t purposely challenge them to design outside their style. Lazy but time-efficient.”
“What you are describing is what clients would love, but don’t really expect—a whole new canvas approach each time. Due to the fact that, these days, it is frightfully easy to hop from service to service, I would assume that it is harder and harder for a Designer to retain clients. I would remain loyal to a Designer, but for other reasons than self-expression.” JILL B.
“I agree with your viewpoint on Commercial design. I speak from a background of more than 30 years in sales & marketing as a marketing director and client.We should never lose sight of the need to qualify every client and every project. (What is the objective?, how will you know if the campaign is successful? etc.) If the client’s campaigns are successful, the creator/designer will easily make a name for him or herself. I’ve had my share of “discussions” with designers over cutting edge design concepts verses what is needed. The problem is… the end user rarely knows what cutting edge design is all about.”
“On the other end, if a designer can achieve a measurable return on investment for their client using a personal brand of design, so be it.” TRACI B.
“As a retired instructor in a Graphic Design program I may be able to add a different perspective in my comments about your article. I certainly echo the remarks that it is all about the client. But even more, it’s about the client’s objectives. And measuring the results. Obviously some results are easier to measure than others—counting shoes sales vs measuring a change in the consumers’ mind about the product/service. Dealing with a client who has no/fuzzy objectives can be daunting. But not untypical with a small business person. A designer must be prepared to spend some time with client exploring his/her concepts about the business. Second, knowing your intended market is also essential. Our students write profiles about other demographic groups—different from their own. And finally knowing what the competition is up to is also helpful. Is there any creativity in here? Of course—pulling together all these ideas and coming up with a visual that meets the client’s objectives—that’s where the true creativity lies. Oh and one more thing—following the specs—I’ve had students hand in assignments that did not meet the specs—e.g. horizontal not vertical. And sometimes it does work better. But you need to follow the rules before you ignore them.” SHEILA J.
I’m a “big picture person.” Though the material I covered in this article seems very basic, I think it needs to be discussed. CHUCK
“Very interesting. For eight years I’ve started portfolio reviews with a prospective client by reminding the viewer that what they are about to see is more reflective of the product or client than my artistic style. I go on to say that they will not see ‘rock band’ posters in my portfolio … it lightens the moment and I use the opportunity to explain the difference between an illustrator, artist and graphic designer. This approach helps manage their expectations.”
“What I do from there is use several pieces to describe my approach to the design process, including their input, review and ultimate acceptance of the piece(s).”
“My prior career was business-oriented, not design oriented. I’ve taken what I learned in business and applied it to my graphic design and it has resulted in a diverse client base. There are so many talented young artists out there that lack this very important piece of business knowledge.” BARB R.
“I’m currently in debate with an online classmate regarding similar issues. He thinks that the wealthy artists make their art to make money. I know from experience that the wealthy artist makes money doing what he loves and doesn’t go into art to make money. I think if the kid doesn’t soon change his attitude the consumer he hopes to attract will quickly see through the sham and wont look twice at his work. From experience I know that authentic art becomes famous and that Koons, Warhol and the like did art because they had fun making art…Anyway the same kid tried to use commercial illustrators as an example, saying that many commercial art pieces became famous sought after works. I pointed out that yes the work started out as a job but became sought after because the artist put more spirit into his/her work than mere craft, but those artists still managed to meet the clients needs by giving more of themselves and creating value for their client.
(any monkey can learn to draw well, an artist draws well with soul) I make fine art for self expression and love of making. I make commercial art to pay the bills. I don’t anticipate my commercial art becoming famous other than for the reason that my fine art may become famous although most of my commercial art is geared more toward client identity and not distinguishable as my work. I try to give my client good value for their dollar but I’m not going to put the same level of passion into it as I do for my fine art works. My fine art is great fun creating sometimes controversial dialog that is to MY liking. My commercial art is slightly less fun making imagery, identity and business media useful to the client for selling HIS/HER product. My commercial art is not about me it’s about the clients product/identity and if I try to make it all about me than I am not serving my client I am serving my ego. I relegate the ego to the closet, it doesn’t pay the bills!” PATTI P
This gets right to the point of the article. I am uncomfortable even mentioning ‘art’ in the same sentence as ‘commercial graphic design’—I see few similarities between the skills and practices of the two. I think students are confused because they often find the path of graphic design through an art program of some kind. But finding graphic design through art is like finding a job as a reporter through an English literature program. On the surface, they seem to be connected, in reality, they are two entirely different fields of endeavor. CHUCK
“Essentially I agree with you. The only exception I remember where the ‘formula’ concept worked was BBD&O’s ‘formula’ for their clients: Volkswagen, Levy’s Bread, etc. That major ad agency’s ads all bore a clean, simple product photo and brief, one sentence or phrase copy. It worked very well in the 50s and 60s, perhaps longer.” MYRA M.
My first reaction is, I don’t think I want to go that far with the argument of the article. I think of the headline, illustration, brief copy approach as more than a formula. Like a 30 second TV spot, the single-page magazine or newspaper ad is a well accepted and understood medium of communicating a message. They both have a beginning, a middle, and an end and we don’t expect the ad agency to re-invent that framework every time, for every client. But I do question whether, in every case, whether it is the best we can do.
The ads you refer to are viewed, from a historical perspective, as genius. But sometimes I wonder whether their effect is positive or negative. They may have taken root in the 50s and 60s, but they are very much in use today. How many hundreds of thousands of print pages have been printed and billions of client dollars do you suppose are spent recasting the magazine ad and the TV spot. Are they really the best approach to reaching prospects? Do they sell the client’s product? Or are we settling for an old solution because we are not willing to take the risks and invest the sweat necessary to find the next brilliant approach. That, of course, is what the marketing world has been discussing in recent years. Seth Goden’s Permission Marketing, Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and so many others are, in essence, pointing to new and different approaches. CHUCK
“I agree with your idea wholeheartedly, but then, your concepts apply equally well to my profession, technical writing and editing. In writing, my job is to communicate in whatever style/vocabulary/organization works best for the intended audience, and my personality shouldn’t be visible. In editing, my job is to make the author’s personality as clear as possible, not impose my quirks, opinions, favorite turns of phrase, etc.”
“Of course, neither commercial designers nor writers can avoid it totally, because it’s impossible for mere humans to be 100% objective and still blend in some artistry. I’m sure my quirks, opinions, and turns of phrase creep in anyway and leave little cat-paw prints on a few paragraphs here and there, especially when I’m in a hurry.” CAROL V.
“So, Paul Rand was mistaken? Herbert Matter was misguided? Josef Müller-Brockmann was wrong? Armin Hoffman had no clue? The Pushpin group had it all wrong too? C’mon man, your perspective is so “now” it is not funny (the demise of people with real, honest to goodness, not practiced, personalities). There was a time when real designers, who left their thumbprint on everything, were in high demand, because their work possessed a personal quality that everyone recognized. They were their work, and you can see their personalities coming through. We need more of that, not less.” CHRIS Z.
Actually, I think Paul Rand is the embodiment of what I am talking about—look at his portfolio and the distinction he draws between clients. Would it be obvious to the average reader that the same designer created the logos for IBM and Harcourt Brace? Remember, I am not saying we don’t (or shouldn’t) bring our sense of style and purpose to the table—I am saying, my job is to speak to my client’s priorities, not my own.
But you make a very good point. I think the men you name probably thought of themselves as artists. As a matter of fact, when Paul Rand was asked to “…Define the difference between an artist who paints for self-expression and a designer,” he said, “The difference between a designer and a painter is very slight.” CHUCK
I think it important to note too that the folks you named were all prolific poster designers, each with his own distinct illustration style. Illustration is where you cross over into art territory and where I concede the distinctions are hazy. CHUCK
“So, my point stands? I understand the demands of clients to fit within a specific mold, but there has been a pendulum swing in the past twenty years in the direction of more and more client control, as design has become a very available commodity. The work of Studio Dumbar stands out as an example of the kind of work that I am suggesting. More designer driven than client driven. I guess the trick is finding clients who really understand the role of an educated and creative group. But experimentation and possible failure always looms in the minds of the bean counters.” CHRIS Z.
The key phrase is “commercial” graphic design. Studio Dumbar’s commercial graphic design is absolutely client-centric. Where the line fades is when you get into illustration and editorializing. To me, that is artistic work, not commercial graphic design. CHUCK
“The comments on the web site are very interesting but I think some are missing the point or (and sorry for me being so bold), but designers are incredibly proud people and the very thought of being told what to do outrages most of them.”
“The observations you made are actually pretty dam clear and in my opinion much needed sometimes. I have a habit of thinking because I am designer I know better than the people I am designing for. It takes a hell of a lot of courage to say, ‘jeez ok I don’t know the best answer for solving this problem but I am willing to find one.’”
“I hated being told what to do, and if you catch me on a bad day I still do. But being humble is such a blessing—it helps take the pressure off of being perfect and having the most amazing, ground breaking design. It frees you to problem solve easily and helps you stick to the brief without fearing the outcome. I put so much pressure on myself to get the finished product to be out of this world. I say what will be will be and let the chips fall where they may.” EMMA C.
“I think designers struggle with this issue because they also struggle with ego issues. Inserting oneself into a design doesn’t have much to do with the success of the piece, which has its own innate purpose and must represent the client/brand. In fact, having a ‘look’ as a designer can be graphic death! It could lead to the equivalent of an actor being typecast. Why limit oneself?”
“As a visual communicator, I’m merely a channel through which form meets function—for my client… Not for me. Playing this role well is where effective designers need to find self-satisfaction. I also find that embracing this philosophy keeps me sane when I’m required to integrate elements that I wouldn’t choose if I were designing for myself. I don’t own the design. It has it’s own purpose. I can make recommendations, but if my happiness is too big a part of the equation the design can become convoluted.”
“A Designer isn’t the same thing as an Artist. A Designer is a businessperson, a press operator, a diplomat, a media specialist, a marketing whiz, a researcher, a technician AND an artist, all rolled into one individual with expensive magazine subscriptions.” SHAUNA G.
“…I guess I’m not really an ‘artist,’ but a layout designer. I didn’t go to art school or even college, but just have a ‘knack’ and practical sense for layout and design, which began on the newspaper staff in high school. I have little to no need for self-expression in my design, just a need to help my clients express what they have to offer in an attractive, easy-to-read format. I have done a little bit of seminar-type teaching on graphic design and one point I always make is ‘The purpose of all marketing materials is that they are READ, not to be framed and displayed as a work of art.’ When I do an initial consultation with a client I also make it very clear that design is subjective and I am here to make them happy. I want them to feel ownership of the end product; to be proud to hand out their business cards, brochures, or whatever. And, on a few occasions, I’ve designed something I wasn’t so fond of myself, but my client was happy to see their ‘vision’ on paper.”
“I think there’s a bit of arrogance in some designers… and in our society in general… which causes an attitude of ‘it’s all about me and my talent.” These artists are under the impression, it seems, that folks are hiring an artist rather than understanding that what they’re looking for is a professional look to get their message to potential customers so they can make more money. Everyone, including our clients, likes it when it’s ‘all about them!’” JULIA T.
This article (way up there at the top) originally appeared on Notes on Design, a curated blog published by the Sessions Online School of Design.