In the 2012 film Branded, writer and director Jamie Bradshaw depicts a world where brands are alive. Although he takes a much darker approach than I could ever conceive of, I find the idea quite compelling.
I think that in our world, brands, in some sense, are alive. They have moods, style, expression, recognition, and they communicate. It's interesting how we feel when we drive into a small town in the middle of nowhere and we see, from a distance, those golden arches flashing in the night.
I think because they have this semblance of life, it is fitting to treat brands (of course, one must be careful about this) as persons. It always helps me to visualize what this person would be like, what they would do and not do, how they would talk, dress. I think that this is an imaginative and reasonable approach to brand design.
Thank you, Mr. Bradshaw.
I once heard it expressed that the difference between art and design is that design has to work.
I believe that this is not just false, but a little bit of a discredit to art.
It is true that design should work (I don't believe it must), but art should work, as well. The unfortunate truth, and many will be unhappy to hear this, is that I have found that any design, and I mean any design, can be taken to by the public if enough money is thrown at it through advertising and product placement. Apple and CashApp are great examples of this.
The truth is that the designer's work is not to create something that will work. Money makes anything work. It is impossible for it not to. The designer's work is to make it work in spite of money.
That is the gift, and the burden, of the design itself.
And as for art, well, I'm no expert. But I knows it when I sees it.
I work as a designer for one of the most prestigious companies in the 21st century. And so I'm surrounded by brilliant minds and fascinating people. I've had an opportunity to meet with all kinds of designers, most especially at the corporate level. And often, I have found one thing in common: Designers are often full of shit, myself included.
We talk too much about the design process as though it were a scientific and mathematical formula. It's not. We are drawing pretty pictures and making silly lines in order to convey ideas. We do get paid quite a bit. But I suspect that when you get paid a good amount of money, you almost want to feel as though you have earned it, and this is a burden that many face. It makes us insecure. And because we are insecure, we behave badly and try to make our jobs sound more "important" than they actually are.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that design is not important. Quite the contrary. But concerning our insecurities, the truth is that we have earned it, because we're getting paid it, and we work for it. So I suggest we relax and do our best work.
I fear that we lose too much of our creativity due to such todderies. So it turns out, where designers ought to be happy, with an explorative and creative mind and good friends, we are instead miserable, terribly unimaginative, and often very unkind to one another. It's unfortunate. But such is often the life of a well-paid designer.
Conducting research is one of the most important things a designer can do. Whether it's market-, competitor-, or user-focused, knowing the ins and outs of your product and its placement on a macro and micro scale can be incredibly informative for designers (including, but not limited to, those involved in product, visual, and brand design).
In fact, I just read about a certain situation where Samsung's TV designs were benefitted from talking to users. The article describes the revelation Samsung received from its ethnographic user studies as a catalyst for a major transformation in the way the company designed its televisions. But the article goes on to describe this change almost as though Samsung did a complete 180. They didn't. They simply added new information to that which they already had -- that is, that the technical qualities of their televisions were important to consumers. Now they knew that aesthetic qualities mattered as well.
Knowing your audience, knowing your people, knowing your users is important. Not simply for the bottom line but for the sake of excellence. I am in agreement with myself: Research is highly important. However, it is not the most important.
"A design that is not relevant to its target audience will never be a success." -- This statement could, in my opinion, be the start to a colossal blunder for a designer. It sounds true but it isn't.
When relevance becomes the most important thing to a designer, they become mediocre and discount copycats. But when a designer shoots for excellence, "relevance" becomes inevitable. The brand must tell the organization's own story. It cannot tell or mimic the story of another. It has to be unique to itself.
This is the reason Apple, though I'm not a fan of their products, is one of my favorite brands. They are brilliant at telling their story and selling it to the world. McDonald's, too, has done quite well with this. The "golden arches" were not a result of user research or a desire to be relevant to their time. They were a reflection of the unique architecture McDonald's had been incorporating in their buildings for years prior. McDonald's referenced itself to tell a story about itself. All good branding must come from the stories each brand tells about itself.
"You must seek within, young grasshopper."
What I'm simply trying to say is there is a place, absolutely, for looking outward and learning from the public, and from competitors, etc. But designers must also remember that it is in their power to shape the narrative, not just be shaped by it. As you already know, I look at brands as people. Don't we, as humans, find it sad and pathetic if a person always looks to others to find out what he or she ought to be? So why do we think any differently about design?
Design is creating with a purpose.
Whether it's to convey a certain emotion or to inspire the consumer, every time we create with an end goal in mind, we arrange the pieces on the table to better achieve that desired end.
All creative action is design.
From music, which is often created to convey something to the individual, whether an idea or an emotion -- to the kitchen faucet, which is created to distribute water in a manner that best suits the kitchen -- the mother planning the meals for the week, mixing and matching them to best nourish her family -- the father gluing pipes together in order to divert water from the air conditioning unit away from the house -- humans are natural designers.
Some of us are better at it than others, either through education or natural talent. There is good design and there is bad design. But both are design, nonetheless. The question now becomes: What draws the straightest and shortest line from desire to actuality?
Although this is not always the case, and it may be harder to achieve than it is to state, often I have found that simplicity is better than the complex. This idea, I believe, also falls into the realm of design. Did we shave off the unnecessary parts of this? Is it clear? Has it been thrown into the fire of scrutiny to produce the goal of simplicity? Can a child replicate it? Can a child recognize it? Does the viewer say, "Aha! That's what they did there!"
Simplicity, I believe, is a brilliant way to live. I also believe it's a brilliant way to design.
When looking into the designs of the past, we ask, Why? When creating those of today, we ask How? And thinking of tomorrow's designs, Where? When encountering designs that fall into these spheres of life, you'd be surprised what you find when you ask the right question.
Why did they do it the way they did?
How do I speak to the people and convey the idea?
Where will we be tomorrow?
It's interesting. We talk about individuality and how it's good for one to express one's own vision of the world.
And I think this is a place for artists and designers alike, who I believe are cut from the same cloth (more siblings than cousins they are). I think this is right -- the individuality, that is -- and the expression, too. There are very little joys in this life for a designer like collaborating with another designer who has a whole different vision of the world than you do; whose strengths and talents lean a bit more to the left or to the right of the gradient than yours; and who is also not a pain to get along with. I would hope that designers would collaborate more.
But in this very individualistic and expressionistic world, I find it strange that a lot of corporations want to look exactly the same. Corporate art is so bland and boring, and, unfortunately, are strange muddy copies of each other. But hey, maybe that's how you celebrate individuality? By copying the most successful individual out there, and doing everything he or she does?
But then again what do I know? I'm just a guy who wears shorts sometimes.
As Designers, our primary goal is to make things that the public will enjoy using.
And so, it's important that we don't lose touch with everyday people, because the minute we do that, we end up designing things that are no longer about the user's enjoyment and product's useability. It becomes more about our own egos. When we do this, we have to then make a huge financial investment in convincing the public that this unintuitive, not-for-the-everyday-man design is for them.
There's nothing wrong with being in an echo-chamber of design, but it is important to step out of that and look at the world with fresh eyes. We must see what people are actually like and what they appreciate.
Once you understand the fundamentals and principles of design, illustration, and art, it would, in my opinion, be silly to attach yourself strictly to them. Those things are foundations upon which to build something beautiful and unique, something honest.
The Designer takes in the world through their eyes and ears, their sense of smell and touch, and interprets their experiences within their own soul and mind (I don't mean to sound too Zen here), and then releases them back out again into the world by the skills of their hands.
This is the work of every creative endeavor.