Generally speaking there are certain words that make a designer’s skin crawl in horror. Words that carry with them connotations far beyond what you will find in any dictionary; that when spoken make a designer want to break and run. They seem like such simple, innocuous little things, but words have meaning, words matter.

Pop – Generally used to mean “I want this to stand out from the crowd” with the subtext of “…but I don’t know how I want it to do that.” From a designer’s point of view, unless it is going to be printed on bubble wrap this word should never be used to describe a design.

Jazz – Most often seen in the context of “Jazz it up.” Much like pop, this tends to be used to mean “make it different, but I don’t know how to tell you that” or something along those lines. As a designer it makes me want to say “Sure thing, Golden Age, Big Band or Free Form?”, but professionalism usually stops me. Unless the design is for an actually jazz band this is another term that should never be used regarding a design.

Something – This seemingly innocent word is like a stealth bomber, it sneaks up on you and before you know it things are falling apart around you. Commonly used in phrases like “…I don’t know, it just needs something…” or “…there’s something about it that doesn’t look quite right to me…” What they really mean is “I have it in my head what I want, but don’t know how to explain myself, therefore I want you to be a mindreader and guess what I have already decided and we will keep at this until you do.” If you hear this term in regards to a design, get ready, it is going to be a long haul.

Committee – “I like it, now I just need to submit it to the committee” or anything of the sort is one of the worst things you can hear. Design by committee is like design hell, because everyone on the committee wants their fingerprints on the design somewhere, and there is always at least one person on the committee who has to have the last word on everything. Even worse is when they ask for proof prints for each individual committee member, because they most always come back to haunt you. Each member marking changes on their own copies, and it all coming back to you to sort out the various, often conflicting, annotations, notes and changes.

Fun – Fun, does it mean casual? Bright and colorful? That they want coloring book style activities in the design? All of this? None of this? This one is always a conundrum, especially when it is used in reference to something that is otherwise very refined or sedate.

Words have meaning, both connotation and denotation, and sometimes they mean very different things to different people. To those people who are speaking to designers, always remember, if you don’t know what you mean then there isn’t any way that your designer will know what you mean. Always strive to be a clear, detailed, and concise as possible. To my fellow designers, never be afraid to ask questions, there are times that the person using these words doesn’t realize they are being unclear, and in the long run a few well times questions can save everyone involved time and trouble, and fewer headaches are always a good thing.

Published in: on February 8, 2010 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Riddle of Design*

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lament…

Oh… wait… wrong riddle there… sorry…

…now… where was I… ah yes…

There are many questions when it comes to design. The first and foremost of these is this: What is the purpose of design? The answer might surprise you.

When you hear this question most likely the first things to come to your mind are the obvious answers. “To be creative.” “To be original.” “To get noticed.” All good answers, to be sure, but none of them are what matters most. In the end the ultimate purpose of design is to make the client happy.

This can be a very hard lesson to learn, but if you want to make it very far in the design field it is one that you will have to come to terms with. Yes, sometimes this means that your most creative designs will end up on the cutting room floor, or worse yet, butchered and mutated into something hideous that only remotely resembles what you started with. It doesn’t matter how brilliant a designer you are, or how spectacular your design may be, if the client doesn’t like it, if it isn’t what they want, it will never see the light of day. This holds true in web design and video as much as it does in print media, when it is all said and done, unless you are designing solely for yourself, it is the client’s design, and it is up to you to give them what they want.

It can be very hard at times to smile and nod as you watch your work deconstructed, drastically altered, or outright rejected. To have to silently change your refined palette of brown and blue hues to vibrantly clashing shades of teal, purple and orange to match the shampoo bottles from the client’s shower. To have to screen the picture of the client’s pet parrot behind the layout’s text because they don’t understand the concept of white space and don’t want to “waste all that space with nothing in it.” To have to change the colors of a design from green to blue to another shade of blue to purple to another shade of blue to brown to yet another shade of blue then back to the original shade of green.**

It is hard, but it is something that a designer has to do. The customer may not always be right, they might not have a clue, nor creative bone in their body or an original idea in their head, however in the end, even though it is your time and your creativity, it is their design. We, the designers, may not like it, but sometimes we just have to swallow our pride; we smile, nod and once they are gone we curse them to hell and back, vent to our friends and co-workers, then get on with our job and make the changes and make the client happy.

That is the true riddle of design. It is our art, but their design.

*With apologies to Robert E. Howard.

**Yes, I have had to do all of these things.

Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 9:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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