There seems to be a trend amongst young designers to rid the printed world of its ugliness and put their beautiful stamp on the industry. This isn’t a bad thing; I buy my gum based purely off of which brand has the best packaging at the checkout counter, but in this new era of Photoshop tutorials and design blogs, it can become easy to loose sight of our role as the designer.
I recently visited a grocery store in an unfamiliar part of town. After a moment of aimlessly browsing in search of spaghetti sauce, I referred to the product signs dangling above each aisle; however, they were of very little use. The thin type blended into the decorative background making it difficult to read from a distance. Visually, the color scheme and design matched the rest of the store, and it would appear that the designer had considered everything except the most important part of the piece, to show me where to find my spaghetti sauce!
Design With an Idea in Mind
At the most basic level, we are visual communicators developing ideas and messages and creating visual outlets for them to be delivered, but sometimes we get so caught up in styles and effects that we forget the ideas behind our design. I’ve found a quote from one of my favorite design authors that illustrates this point.
“Many desperate acts of design (including gradients, drop shadows, and the gratuitous use of transparency) are perpetuated in the absence of a strong concept. A good idea provides a framework for design decisions, guiding the work.”
— Ellen Lupton
Beauty Isn’t Everything
If we create something without an idea of what we’re trying to say or how we’re trying to say it, what we end up with is a product that is purely decorative with no real substance or message. Personally, I don’t mind the occasional glossy web banner or eco-friendly graphic printed on unbleached, recycled paper. If the style choices help reinforce the Idea then it works, but making cosmetic changes without consideration to the message or how it’s speaking to the audience is like polishing the brass on the Titanic.
Stop and Think
Occasionally, we need to take a step back from the computer and rethink our approach by first solving our problems from a conceptual level because the value of our work isn’t defined by layer styles or effects. There is no adobe plug-in for creative thought, and every great design begins with a great idea.