Friday, March 30, 2007
Why I'm Not A Graphic Designer
A graphic design blog cites the "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" rule and identifies this "update" to the Dairy Queen logo as taking the crown for "the least broken with the worst fixin'." Unfortunately, they are so right. The new logo is less legibile, less distinctive, less clearly identifiable from a distance, utterly disregards the simplicity and cohesiveness of the original, and contains colors which make no sense and operate solely as visual noise.
And the real problem is that these are technical terms. These will all directly correlate to weaker performance. Every one of these flaws means that people will be less certain what logo they're looking at. In that drive-by split-second where you might have seen the logo out of the corner of your eye and wanted some kind of ice-cream-like processed sweet goo, legibility, consistency, distinctiveness, all these things translate into sales.
I love doing graphic design, but I hate talking to graphic design clients, and the reason is that they always assume they know as much about graphic design as I do. This always makes me wonder why they don't just do it themselves. In Europe graphic design is a respected field, but here in America, the idea that a graphic designer has technical constraints to work within is completely foreign. The idea that a graphic designer is doing work with any technical dimension at all is totally unheard of, and this is why American graphic design is so incredibly bad.
Graphic designers are generally thought of as people who make stuff pretty, and their job is to make executives happy. But if you have a background in graphic design, if you've read things like Robert Bringhurst's Elements of Typographic Style, you know that graphic design is simply a technical and artistic field which American culture mishandles for some unknown reason. Good graphic design, in this country, is seen by many companies as an indulgent luxury, rather than something with genuine usefulness. (I myself am guilty of falling into this trap; take a look at my portfolio site and you'll see that I love design, and yet you'd never guess it from reading my blog.)
A little while ago I posted about how both working from home and deprecating Internet Explorer appear to be luxuries but are in fact powerful competitive advantages. With good graphic design, we have again a thing which companies generally regard as a luxury. But maybe there's a pattern here. Could it in fact be a powerful competitive advantage?
Of course it is. And this makes me wonder why I'm not a graphic designer. For years I've believed that the reason I'm not a graphic designer is because programming and graphic design are equally creative fields, but programmers are given the respect they deserve and designers aren't. As long as your code meets or exceeds requirements, people will be happy with it; whereas your graphic design can meet or exceed requirements, and you're still expected to jump through hoops. But making your design worse just to satisfy the client will in fact cost the client money in lost sales. (Don't believe me? Ask Zune. User experience is design too.)
I think the real reason I'm not a graphic designer is because I never figured out how to communicate this to my clients.
(The other reason, of course, is that it's hard to be two things at the same time, but that's another post.)
Posted by Giles Bowkett at 1:34 PM