Our designers reflected a bit on their work. Where is the inspiration in it? How do they understand beauty? How is an identity different from a masterpiece?
There is a widespread belief that designers take inspiration from some astral directly from the Muse. Or as if they embody their own particular vision of the world in their work. Because of this misconception, young people new to design often experience cognitive dissonance. Sometimes this comes as a big surprise to clients of branding agencies. Our designers talked about their work and compared it to the work of an artist who creates masterpieces for the sake of art.
The designer is not an artist.
Undoubtedly, both designers and artists are dealing with visual images. Another thing is that for an artist, creativity is an act of free self-expression, independent of any framework or condition except internal. The activity of a designer is a work in which analytical thinking predominates rather than the creative component.
Of course, the creative component is present in the work of a designer. Without it, it is hardly possible to become a good specialist. To some extent, there is also art, with which a designer should be in constant contact. It helps you feel a finer sense of the relationship between visual images and reality.
We live in a visual culture that is largely influenced by artists, musicians, fashion designers, architects. Studying contemporary art is not a bad thing for a designer. This is an opportunity to look in a new way at the use of materials, harmonious color solutions, the emotional component of visual space, and, accordingly, the future of the brand.
Elements of contemporary art are often used in design. Often, designers are invited to work with artists, such as illustrators and calligraphers, as designers of the developed concept. For example, famous designer-calligrapher Pokras Lampas is often involved in designing advertising campaigns. But art is present in the design in strictly necessary proportions for the solution of the assigned task. And it is the designer who determines those proportions.
Good design can in some cases, and even be as emotionless, impersonal and pragmatic. If you need to create a schedule of electric trains, then there certainly should not be any “flight of fancy.
The artist creates what he likes, what expresses his vision. The designer does not always have such tasks. For example, I love dogs and turquoise and yellow, but for a consulting company, that kind of visual and color combination would be completely irrelevant.
The design should solve the client’s problem, not be a place for the designer’s self-expression. Many novice designers do projects in a similar style regardless of the client’s objectives. With experience, the designer becomes more project oriented than his or her own preferences.
Also, an artist in his or her work often has no deadlines for the work, or those deadlines are quite abstract. A full-time designer is always loaded with tasks, and not necessarily creative ones at that. A designer cannot work by mood.
The work of a designer usually has many restrictions. And, as a rule, the more of them, the more interesting the final result. The worst project for a designer is the one in which you can create what you want. With an artist, it’s just the opposite.
The origins of the creative act.
A huge difference in the work of an artist and a designer lies in what the creator is repulsed by. The artist proceeds from the idea of expressing what is on his mind. The designer expresses what is in the brief. After all, he creates not for himself, not for art, not for the sake of humanity, and for the client company.
The first and most important stage of the designer – to study the brief, the company’s work, the current corporate identity and customer wishes. See graphic solutions of competitors. Thus formed an understanding of the task facing the designer.
The designer must read the brief very carefully, trying to ferret out between the lines of hidden customer pains and what is most important for his business. If in the process of work later stumbles, you can reread it every time.
An artist’s creativity is individual. It’s hard to find a masterpiece of painting created by a team of specialists of different profiles. But design projects are the work of an entire team.
In a full-service agency the designer does not work by himself, the project also involves the creative department, brand-strategist, project manager and art-director. There is a briefing with the team before work begins. A comprehensive approach to the task helps shape the direction of the work, and only then does the designer sit down for a visual. By this time the team usually have a rough idea of what the result will be at the end of the work. Then the designer is engaged in viewing auxiliary images (references). Only after that does the work with sketches and the birth of the visual image begin.
At all stages there are storms with the working group. In general, the final work is never a designer’s idea, which comes on a whim. It is the painstaking work of a whole group of people.
Birth of an image
The work of a designer is most similar to that of a free artist in the search for an image.
I often make sketches on paper, when I need to think of an image, I make a map of associations and try to visualize it. Often the idea comes from forms: objects, single letters, geometric objects. At the stage of sketching it is important not to fall flat with the elaboration of details and it is better to work through several options for developing the concept, rather than draw one, which may be rejected in the future work. When an idea is agreed on the storm, the designer sits down for a detailed study of the project.
The designer is better to think “on paper”, fixing all his thoughts. As a rule, the first thing that pops into his head are associations of the first order. It is important not to banish them from your mind, but to represent them first and then immediately “let go”. At this stage, the main thing is not to give up and say, “I can’t think of anything else.
It’s better to throw in as many stupid sketch ideas as possible than to get stuck on working through one. A lot of time will be wasted, and then it might turn out to be for nothing because you didn’t see the silhouette of something obscene there. Personally, I sometimes write out all the word associations. Also, an art director helps a lot in the work with his comments, who sees the project from the outside and in its entirety.
If we go deeper into the process of creating, for example, paintings, we see about the same picture. The artist makes sketches, several versions of sketches. Often the future work is first done in miniature. Only after a careful faceting of the idea are the images transferred to the canvas, “on the blank.”
A glimpse of beauty.
Of course, an artist, no matter what he says, creates for people and not for himself. But in his work he conveys his personal view of things, his unique perception of beauty. If his work is not understood, he can always say, “I’m an artist, this is how I see it. And it often happens that these artists really see beauty, which none of their contemporaries yet understands.
Rembrandt, for example, with his four-meter canvas The Night Watch, didn’t fit in well with the general Dutch fashion for miniature pictures with maximum detail. The merits of this work were not revealed to mankind until centuries later, but we now call it a masterpiece. “Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son was also misunderstood by his contemporaries. This includes almost all of Van Gogh’s work, who managed to sell his first painting only a year before his death. And there are many such examples.
A designer cannot allow himself to be a “mad genius” and run ahead of the locomotive of existing trends. His vision should coincide with the vision of his target audience, and the concept of beauty must be in line with his contemporary epoch.
A good designer must always keep abreast of the latest developments in design and not only. Horizons designer – a very important part of his success.
As a rule, you can clearly see the extent of his “knowledge” by his work. Our agency does this, among other things, with the help of digests. We look at new cases, discuss them and highlight new trends. This helps experienced designers not to get bogged down in their own swamp, repeating tried-and-true moves over and over again.
Taste, whether innate or nurtured, certainly plays a role. But without knowledge of trends, it is impossible to assess the value of a work at a particular moment in time. The most obvious example is the Helvetica font. At one time it was a breakthrough, the highest degree of fashionability in design. In the ’90s, this font was already considered commonplace. Now Helvetica is making a comeback, but as part of the retro style.
Beauty in design is a harmoniously solved problem. Harmony between the visual and internal components of the brand. Plus, the practicality of the final media. In the poster of the exhibition of contemporary art will be beautiful one thing, but in the layout of the menu of the cafe quite another.
The designer in his work is not focused on the evaluation of another designer, or even on the client, but on the final consumer. A good designer should try to make this world visually more logical, orderly, understandable, and thereby improve communication between people. This is what beauty is all about.
As in any sphere of human activity, there are people and groups that “make history”, create things that change perception, give new meanings to existing things. Design is no exception. There were and are designers and studios that defined and define eras with their style.
Should a designer have his or her own unique vision? It depends on the scale of personality, ambition, and global goals. It depends on whether the designer has something he or she can bring to the world around him or her. Something that will really change it, make it easier and clearer. Few people have that. That doesn’t mean that other designers are worse or better, though. These are different levels of concepts. Just as not every furniture store is capable of becoming Ikea. And most importantly, does it want to become Ikea?
It’s the eternal confrontation between the functional and the high. Practical design, steadily solving daily problems, is needed no less, if not more than “style icons”. And in certain areas of life and there is no place for stylizations. Although truly outstanding design – a harmony of interior and exterior, when the design corresponds to the content and function.
Certainly not every client can see in the new look of his usual daily routine, something more: a perspective, new opportunities, and even mistakes. Therefore, the designer is important to be able to help the client to look at themselves in a new way, to charge with enthusiasm, to prove that you together can create something important.
In addition, style and fashion are too fleeting things in today’s world. Now it is very difficult to imagine the possibility of personalities of the scale of Lubalin or Brody, who influenced many contemporary designers, appearing in the industry. Their arsenal is a rather limited set of stylistic solutions. Modern design has become too multifaceted for that. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying, though.
A good artist finds for himself a unique set of techniques that he likes, and which best help to transfer his inner world to the canvas. Each outstanding artist has his own unique style. That’s why we can always tell Repin from Savrasov, Dali from Picasso, Manet from Renoir.
In design, this is much rarer. Even the coolest branding agencies make projects that are almost impossible to identify visually. Nevertheless, such a phenomenon as “own style” is present in design. True, it has its own specifics and completely different reasons.
Many designers or studios definitely have their own style, since when you see their work, you can immediately identify the authorship. It’s hard to say whether they do it consciously or unconsciously. Most likely, it happens in different ways.
Of course, every personality is influenced by its experience. It is logical that one person may involuntarily make projects in one way or another similar. However, one should always be aware of this and try to get out of the proverbial comfort zone, because such limitations can be detrimental to the task.
I also think that sometimes there are technical limitations. In such cases, you have to wiggle around. For example, I’m a bad illustrator, and I don’t have time or much need to develop this skill. So if I do illustrations, it’s always vector simple graphics that I can balance with something else.
In any case, you should always understand what problem you are solving. If your style framework allows you to do it, then there’s no problem. If not, then you have to ask someone for help.
It also happens that the style is some illusion, which is created thanks to the competent screening of clients by the studio, even at the stage of approval. Agencies simply won’t take on projects where they can’t apply their favorite tricks. And someone just does not show unloved cases in their portfolio, which, nevertheless, could perfectly solve the client’s problem.
A matter of technique
When the image is invented, the technical work begins – the realization of the idea. With artists, of course, it’s the same way: they paint pictures, and at this stage a lot depends on their skills. But with designers, this part of the work is the most important. Maybe even more important than the creative idea itself.
It often happens that even a great idea wins at the expense of excellent production. In principle, any idea can be executed beautifully. This, by the way, is often the case that wins awards at festivals. In order for this to work, you must have a clear idea of the future appearance of the product, its development and details. This can only be achieved with the help of carefully chosen references before the start of the work.
Looking at references is a very important part of the work process and a special case of general “observation”. You have to select references not only from one industry, not only on one topic. For example, if you have to do branding, it is often useful to look at some interior solutions and sites.
It is important to remember that the final product is not a work of art that will be framed, hung in the Hermitage and admired. A designer’s work will work, will be applied in different ways in life. It is precisely novice designers who sin by trying to think of some static, singular and inimitable solution. Or worse – they start with a spherical logo in a vacuum.
You have to think systematically at once. Even when drawing a logo, at least approximately imagine how the rest of the corporate identity may develop in the future. It is important to think about the variability of graphics. As, for example, in our project Double You, where you can use different triangles in a logo.
Also in the final presentation, we always show how the logo looks in different media, in different contexts, and how it can be further developed.
In addition, the work must be neat. If it has rough technical defects like wrong quotes, hyphens instead of dashes, or “jackals” (low resolution pictures), you can’t help but think about the quality of the rest of the work.
I think in the work of a designer the most important stage is not the concept he comes up with, but the final files, the guideline and the possibility of further implementation of the project.
First of all, when developing a brand it’s always important to understand where and how the brand identity will be used. For example, for a digital brand without a single print medium, it’s acceptable to use a gradient transition from bright purple to neon pink. If your brand’s main channel is banners and flyers, such colors will look messy, and it’s better to go straight for colors that reproduce well in CMYK. If the company will definitely have a sign, you should look into the ORACAL fan at the design stage and see if it is even possible to produce a sign in this shade?
It is always important to think of the questions that the client can face, and try to anticipate them at the stage of branding. In particular – how much money the client has, whether he can afford to implement the concept.
Another important stage – the guideline or guidelines for the use of corporate identity. Often, work on the medium does not end at the agency. Many companies have their own in-house designers, who will work with the layout after you give them the final files.
It is important to be as correct as possible in the basic principles of creating a brand and its media, then you can be sure that in the future the concept will be implemented correctly. For example, if a company has several SKUs, and you understand that new ones may appear, it is worth prescribing in detail how to make a new layout, preserving brand recognition.
A good example is the Real Will brand of nut pastes we developed. According to our guideline we made labels for a new product – fruit jams, preserving the style and the principles of the layout. As a result, the new SKU fit well into the existing lineup and are not inferior in their visual appearance to the labels made in the agency.
Obviously, the final files themselves should be saved correctly. What will the customer think of the agency if he comes to the printer and is told that such a file cannot be printed? Or if the file is printed, but with the wrong dimensions or colors, and the entire print run has to be redone? The printer will not do it at his own expense, and a disappointed client will come to the agency, demanding payment for poor quality work.
The final files are the face of the agency, the level of professionalism and competence. Our agency has developed a checklist for designers, which prescribes all the stages of verification of the final files for correctness. From the moment the checklist is signed, the designer who did the work and the lead designer who checked the project are financially responsible for the files delivered to the client.
So is there inspiration or not?
Inspiration is an insight, an unexpectedly successful solution to a problem. It does not come suddenly, but only after the study of terms of reference and brief, the collection of references, immersion in the project, when the designer is absorbed in search of the best option.
There is a belief that a designer is successful only when he or she works only by inspiration, not by force. But only a small fraction of projects turn out suddenly, without exertion and with minimal edits. As Picasso said, “inspiration must catch you at work.” For me, this means that you shouldn’t sit idly by waiting for inspiration: you have to constantly keep yourself busy, overcome sleepy, inert and lazy, go over even the most obvious and trivial solutions if nothing else comes to mind.
Even this kind of work becomes a solid foundation of the project: when the head starts to turn on and starts to think, there is already something to build on. When you love what you do, there is room for inspiration in everything: in the search for ideas, in the branding of media, and in the writing of the accompanying text for the brand book.
All in all, design is more of a craft than an art. And yet, artist and designer are related professions. No matter how sublime the creation of masterpieces of painting may be, technical moments play a huge role in it. And no matter how practical design is, creativity and inspiration play an important role.