Posted 02 Sep 2010 - 3 Gratefully received comments
A while ago I re watched one of my favourite films, ‘The Usual Suspects,’ it’s a very quotable film and memorable in many ways. However one line has stuck in my head.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
I’ve been mulling it over and I wonder if Kaiser Soze was, in fact, a graphic designer?
I apologise now if you haven’t seen the film I’m referring to, if that’s the case give it a watch!
Basically, the character of Kaiser Soze is a master criminal who is utterly ruthless and without conscience, but he is also very cunning. He completes his work through tricks and shadow games, so much so that the world does not believe he actually exists.
If Kaiser Soze does his job properly nobody notices him. I think that good design can sometimes suffer the same fate.
First I should probably define what I believe “good” design is.
The aesthetics of design are subjective, like art. The way something looks can be interpreted by different people in different ways.
I define “good” design by how effectively it communicates with the people it is targeted at. Unlike art, there is always a proper reason for the aesthetics in a design. They may still be subjective, but they will be focused into the message that is trying to be sent.
The best form of communication does not always result in the most pleasing aesthetics.
Which brings me to my point…
“Good” design can sometimes slip beneath everyone’s radar. The world is saturated by a huge amount of design literature, all shouting at us at once, vying for our attention, but we simply don’t notice it anymore. This onslaught of communication is considered the ‘norm’ and most of us simply ignore it.
It now takes something exceptionally good to be noticed amongst the white noise of graphic design, or something exceptionally bad.
For designers, bad design sticks out like a sore thumb, but for most people (clients included) it is all just part of the background noise.
Perhaps my definition of “good” design is no longer sufficient? Maybe our work now needs to communicate effectively as well as shout above the crowds.
Unfortunately, I’ve never thought that people who feel the need to shout, have all that much to say.
Because of the amount of design the general public is exposed to, we all eventually become desensitized to it. Just like a teenager that watches too many action films stops worrying about the levels of violence. The violence almost becomes expected.
The level of the graphic design that surrounds our daily lives has also become expected.
Which brings me back to my main point… If we do a good job at designing something, making sure that it communicates it’s message properly, our actions as designers, the design decisions we’ve made will go unnoticed.
It’s a bit like that old saying concerning secret government organizations. Their successes are never noticed but their failures are always exposed.
If a design is only as good as it’s brief, and the design fulfills its brief perfectly, then it does exactly what is expected of it. If “good” design (as per my definition) meets its set expectation, how can designers make their work stand out? How do you excel beyond set expectations if doing so spoils the effectiveness of a design’s communication?
This article is simply a thought experiment, I have no answers, but I think the questions I have posed are worthy of discussion, so I hope you’ll add your own thoughts to mine.
Do you think it’s difficult to get your designs to stand out from the crowd? Is “good” design ignored? Should a designer be invisible in their work?
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