Saturday, March 12, 2011

Creative Graphic Design Isn't Neutral

People generally design things for a particular reason. She expects her website to generate sales. That brochure is suppose to convince prospective buyers. The logo and stationery will make her look more professional. Of course these reasons may even prompt people to hire a professional designer. They want something. Something that stands out from the crowd of similar items. They want their design solution to be creative (above average) and successful.

Unfortunately, there often exists a disconnect between the desired outcome and the actual result. This happens because many people believe that a good design needs to appeal to everyone. In other words, they believe that playing it safe will actually result in a creative design solution. But that cannot be further from the truth. In fact, it is the direct opposite approach to creativity.

Here's what I mean:

Solutions by committee rarely work. People often set up committees to defer responsibilities. When a committee is tasked with working with a designer on a project, committees are too busy trying to please everyone in the committee to allow for creative solutions. Committees are notorious for risk aversion. And creativity involves risks.

Safe solutions are always focused on a broad audience. You communicate differently with an individual than with a group of people. And you communicate differently when your audience needs persuading. Imagine trying to speak to an audience of people who already agree with you, people looking to disagree with you, and people who need convincing. It's better to focus your message on the audience most likely to buy into your message than try to please everyone. Why? Because your message needs to remain clear. And those who can be convinced will be convinced. However, if you try to please everyone you end up speaking to no one. And even those who can be convinced by you will be lost by your message.

Unclear messages lead to unclear design solutions. If you want a great visual solution, you have to start with clear and well-conceived content. Design doesn't happen in a vacuum. It always exists within a context. That context is cultural, linguistic, and situational. Ignore these and your design might be pretty, but also pretty meaningless. Good design starts with a clear message and clear point of view.

In conclusion, when someone seeks a creative design, and yet they haven't identified their message or their audience clearly, I question whether they really want a creative solution. Creativity by definition is unique. And truly unique design is not neutral design.

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