Wander down the high street, surf the net, browse the supermarket shelves, open your mail in the morning and you may start to feel underwhelmed by what you see. Amid all the consumer choice, there’s actually none. Everything’s slick, but not much stimulates. The spark has gone out. Technology has taken over designing the world we live in.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a great admirer of the Apple Mac, which has become the design industry standard. It’s a wonderful thing – easy to use and beautiful to behold. What more could any of us want? But there’s a worrying worm at the core – and that’s not the fault of the good people at Apple – it’s ours, the designers. Now that we can put together a page or a pack much faster and easier than ever before, we’re losing the craft of creativity. And that’s bad news for us – and even worse news for brands.
So where has it all gone awry?
Execution before ideas: true design starts with an idea that expresses what the brand stands for in a different and individual way. But too often today, with a mouse in their hands and a deadline on their mind, for many designers, the journey of discovery starts with Getty Images and ends with Photoshop. The important stage of creative exploration is cut out in favour of getting straight into the execution. What’s available, not what’s unique: With a diversity of fonts readily available with a search and a click, the craft of typography is becoming a rarity. Setting typography was once an art form in itself, but now few designers understand the rules. Creating logotypes by hand educates the eye on how to compose and balance letterforms correctly and gives the designer the confidence to style and define unique solutions. Working with Geoff Halpin in early stages of my career was an education in its own right. Every graphic identity was a painstaking quest in search of originality. Every designer should still be part of that quest.
Speed above all: With clients themselves under pressure, speed (and cost) take over and, if we, as designers, fail to demonstrate the value of a craft approach, not just for luxury brands, but for mainstream ones too, we will become a commodity business – and deserve it. Anyone can do it: We’re in the age of ‘user generated content’ – and it’s having an impact way beyond the world of design. Certainly, with readily available tools as standard on Mac and PC, everyone can be a designer now. And for those who want to be that little bit more sophisticated, there are plenty of courses advertised, claiming to provide design qualifications in just four weeks. That’s great for a family website. But for a brand in which millions are invested and which needs to make a special connection with the consumer, the bar is much, much higher. In the battle for business, if we adopt essentially the same tools and techniques as the enthusiastic amateur, just with a little more experience and finesse, then we’re complicit in the myth that design is just about the right software and we devalue our craft. So far, so sad. But does it all really matter – other than to me, of course, and others who have trained hard and are touched by the magic of creating original design? Well, yes it does. The consumer is becoming impervious to the endless babble of ads, banners, blogs, virals, pop-ups, shelf wobblers, BOGOFs, direct mail, and email. They need to be touched, inspired, fascinated, amused. Design – brilliant design, beautiful design, bold, entertaining, lovable design, shocking, sharp, unexpected design can do that and make a connection like nothing else. But only if we care and if we craft.
What’s the solution?
Well my starters would be these:
- For us designers, put down the mouse and pick up the pencil. Every new brief should be treated as an adventure, a journey into the unknown, a tireless, nerve-tingling quest for that eureka moment. Don’t start implementing until you have the idea. I remember well a lecture a few years ago, where Bob Gill talked passionately about his subject. He agreed that ideas are often found by accident and experimentation. Exploration through different mediums - paint, pencil, collage, photography, and stencils - inspires unexpected results.
- For all of us in the industry – nurture quality and real craft training in the next generation of young designers. We have to make sure that no one comes out of design college without having real knowledge of the core crafts of typography, illustration, iconography. Lock up the Macs until they have.
- For clients – a plea. Great design stands the test of time and is worth the investment – in time as much as money. There are no shortcuts. Allow us to craft and explore and we will create you something truly unique.