As a graphic designer, I am a sucker for great typography, elegant layouts, stunning photography and unique illustration. I geek-out over paper textures, cool motion graphics, and hand-lettered signage. I appreciate good aesthetics as much as the next designer. But what makes a graphic design effective?
The idea behind it.
When you combine the visually pleasing with concept and reason, you have something that not only looks nice, but tells a story. It moves people to action. It causes change.
You’re probably thinking, “DUH. Isn’t that the point of graphic design?”
Of course. But with the evolution of software, now your mom, your neighbor and your dog can be a graphic designer. To be successful in this business, you must go beyond providing a pretty picture.
All too often graphic design has become commoditized
Need a brochure layout or website design? You can buy a template online for $30. And it will most-likely look really nice. Need a logo? You can crowdsource one for less than $10, or purchase cheap vector art from dozens of sources. I stumbled across a website today that “auto-generated” 15 logo options in under 10 seconds…for free. (Cringe). What does this mean for the future of graphic designers?
The foundation of graphic design is fine art. Citing dictionary.com, fine art is “visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic and intellectual purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness.” The key to successful commercial art is that second part: it actually means something. Will a design convey a unique value proposition? Will it be memorable to your audience?
When I was a young and naïve designer, I used to roll my eyes when asked to change the CTA from eight-point gray type to something bigger, more visible. I could make a block of copy free of incorrect inch marks, each letter perfectly kerned…but did I actually read the paragraph? Likely not. It took some hard lessons to figure out that I was not in the business of just creating pretty pictures. I was in the business of conveying a message and solving a communication problem. And as I grew more experienced, I realized that the greatest accomplishment of a designer is to create something beautiful and authentic that also serves a purpose. The beautiful part is easy. The concept part is not.
The auto-generated logo that was created in under 10 seconds will likely be forgotten in 5. And therein lies the value of our craft.