At the risk of sounding like embittered old geezers, waving our canes, ranting about the “good old days” and demanding that cashiers accept our expired coupons, we feel we must explore a subject that has really gotten under our skin. The fact that design—true, artful and effective design—has begun to wither and die.
We’ll investigate some of the many ways that designers (and clients, for that matter) have allowed the art and craft of design to become terminally ill.
Symptom # 1: Reliance on design software to the detriment of real, intimate design knowledge.
As we explore this concept, we might look like we’re blaming computers for the sharp decline in design quality. Nope. Design software revolutionized design in the same way a food processor did for cooking. Why spend hours painstakingly chopping and grinding vegetables when you can just automate the mind-numbing parts of the process? Just put it in the food processor and let it do the work, for heaven’s sake. However, this doesn’t mean a chef no longer needs the proper knife skills.
The same goes for design software. Using software tools as all-encompassing electronic drafting tables with all of the requisite accoutrements (3D effects, noise removal, etc.) is time-saving and economical, without question. Unfortunately, when a designer’s knowledge of design doesn’t extend beyond what can be achieved by using Adobe Creative Suite is when designs themselves get thoroughly boring and redundant.
Our message to new and inexperienced designers: stop obsessively mapping out the design structure and finding the perfect electronic paper texture on your design app and actually draw the design you want to achieve. Ungluing your eyes from the computer screen and forcing yourself to transpose your idea onto paper will force you to use weapons in your mental armory you never knew you had. The biggest creative and technical breakthroughs come from the imagination, without the dependence on preexisting templates telling you what you can and cannot accomplish.
Symptom # 2: Designing for design’s sake.
We all like to look at pretty things. Who isn’t dazzled by a glorious red and amber sunset, with golden shafts of light streaking out into the sky from behind low-hanging, powdery white clouds? We’re visual creatures. Looking at works of art activates the pleasure centers in our brains and enhances our mood. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that pretty designs can therefore exist in a vacuum.
Designs can’t just look cool. There must be a solid narrative behind every design, and the graphic designer must be able to justify why he or she put what where. It comes down to having the essentials, and not straying far from that. This is how graphic design differs from fine art: art can mean many different things to many different people, whereas a good commercial design should mean basically the same thing to everyone. Brilliant commercial graphic design, however, might (and often does, nowadays) eventually become fine art.
Graphic designers must be able to use their skills to convey the client’s message in a manner that’s quick, attractive and effective. To do so, a designer must know how design structures affect a viewer specifically. Once again, this is something that is learned by taking courses, reading books, studying art and design history and practicing. You won’t find a computer app that can wrap all of that up in a tidy little digital package.
Symptom # 3: Depending upon free graphics and stock photos.
The Internet has given us tons of free, easily accessible images that we can pluck like daisies and deposit into any project we want. It’s certainly cheap, it might be visually appealing to a client that doesn’t know better, and it’s fast. This might be the final nail in the coffin of fine graphic design.
The use of free images in graphic design poses the risk of creating copycat designs; something that is unspeakably awful to any brand. Do you want someone to see your logo or webpage and immediately associate it with another product or company?
Sadly, the market is glutted with ineffective, poorly thought out designs and novice designers masquerading as experts. And nobody’s immune to this. Did you go to CES? Take a look at map they gave for South Hall 4. The Wynit ad that shows a MegaPlex home projector also has the same woman’s picture we’ve seen in about a dozen other places all over the Internet. Hope she’s making bank on royalties, because apparently she’s everyone’s model … in the same pose and clothes. Come on guys, this is CES, you seriously can’t do better?
Even though one might think that this phenomenon would make the skills of professional, experienced designers more precious, it hasn’t; it’s cheapened the entire discipline. Do we blame these copycats? No, not really. We want to help them. We want to guide them. We want them to learn the intricacies of the art and craft of design as a skill separate from the inside-out knowledge of the latest Adobe program. And, we want them to stop entering those $%&! crowdsource design contests.