"Practice Safe Design. Use a Concept."
I misuse the word consistency about a dozen times a day. Sometimes if I can’t explain my reason for making something look a certain way, I tell my client or fellow production team that I did it for the sake of consistency. How can you argue with consistency? The people I usually deal with don’t argue and I get the go ahead. But isn’t that just lazy? Yes. Yes it is. I’ve been schooled in the thought of always having a reason to back up your choices. It doesn’t sound like rocket science but a lot of the people I went to school with and still interact with today don’t understand the important of creating with a concept.I guess this method of creating a strategy for every design choice I make was set on by a series of annoying questions. I guess it really wasn’t even a series of questions. It was just one question frequently repeated. “Why?” I was working at a studio where the boss man would just look at what I did and all he would say was “Why?” Really, I’m not kidding or even being slightly exaggerative. I would say “What do you think about this?” He would repeat “Why?” So I would just start explaining everything because I didn’t know what he was questioning. He would give feedback on what I had presented and give me ideas on how to make the strategy work better. That’s the important part. I had to explain what I was trying to accomplish with my design. If the design wasn’t correctly accomplishing the goal, then the boss man would let me know.
The interesting part about this process is that I would see the flaws in my design choices while I was explaining them. It happens to us all the time. In our heads everything makes perfect sense. But when we start to explain it, or even say it out loud, we see the flaws. In hind sight, I know that my boss was trying to get me to understand the actual problem and try to see the actual solution. If you don’t know this already, design is nothing but problem solving. There are multiple ways to solve every problem. It is our jobs as designers to find out what solution is the best option. We aren’t paid to make pretty things sparkle. We’re paid to create and test solutions.
Just yesterday I had a client come back and say they changed their minds on a cover design that we signed off on months ago. The cover didn’t have the “see-say” effect the client wanted. (For this I will direct you to Chip Kidd’s TED talk. That’s all I will say about that.)
The client suggested a different cover idea. We tried this idea when we were developing concepts for the cover. This idea was one of our firsts to be discussed and one of the firsts to be thrown out. It only focused on a small percentage of the content instead of equally representing the content as a whole. We ended up going with a concept that was a little more abstract but was able to communicate many different ideas thorough iconography and semiotics. So even though this concept was strong and had been signed off on months ago, the client still wanted something different. I couldn’t understand why. Everyone on our side knew the symbolism of the colors, photography, and textures. So why didn’t the client? The client internally asked “Why” and wasn’t supplied with an answer.
I’ve learned that you can’t wait for your client to ask you why. You have to tell them why. I will take full responsibility for not explaining to the client why we did what we did. I sent them the file with a “What do you think? Please have updated content ASAP.” That’s not how you write an email, people. Look, I’m becoming an adult. I should have explained to the client why we made the choices we did. I should have explained why each element on the cover was vital. This would have prevented rebuttals and it would have made our design and our opinions more valuable and trusted. To be completely honest, if this wasn’t a client on the other side of the country, we should have just met in person.I know longer work with the boss man that would annoyingly repeat “why” but he did teach me a good lesson. After a while I didn’t have to have anyone ask me why. I started asking myself. Each time I sketch an idea, mock up a concept on the computer, or select a color scheme, I ask myself why. If I can’t justify a reason, I don’t do it. That just means there’s a better solution out here that is accompanied with a reason.
I am currently working as an in house graphic designer. I work with only one other creative person and a handful of financial minded people. My job consists of making infographics, conference materials, and quarterly publication that comments on the economic climate in the Midwest. Asking myself “why” before I sit in meetings with those who don’t understand design has saved me lots of pain, suffering and time. Each meeting I show my solutions and they throw back their opinions of what should be done. They change the layout and start sketching on their legal pads. Then I stop them and explain that I’ve explored many concepts and explain why what I’ve chosen works.I try to use words and perspectives that are important to them. For example, these people think in dollar signs. I explain how two columns will lower our paper content. I bring back up. I show them other designers and organizations that have used similar solutions. My boss (and only other creative in the office) frequently says “Explain it like they were 5th graders.” I have to remember that while I was in art school learning about complimentary colors, these people were in a master’s program learning about interest rates and inflation. They have their specialties and I have mine.
It's important to be able to communication your reasons but developing a reason while you design will not only make your solution stronger and easier to explain but it will help you find the best possible solution.