Long ago, when the world was young and I was in sixth form I was in the first class to take a graphic design A level. It wasn’t called graphic design back then, it was graphical communication. There were no computer packages (CAD was in its infancy) and we drew everything by hand, learning from a green board.
Now this article is not going to be a harkening back to days of yore, but instead a look at solid foundations for design and its use.
I believe that communication and language are vital, especially in the modern world. We all know it is unacceptable to go abroad and speak to the locals in a loud clear (and English) voice. Even if we don’t speak the language it is better to communicate in a way that is easier on those we are trying to communicate with.
This is where, occasionally graphic design falls down. Some creative agencies have developed their own ‘look’, their own way of designing things. Others will slavishly follow the latest trends, aiming that everything they do is cutting edge. Thankfully both types are in the minority, but both fail to communicate well.
Firstly they are not communicating well with their clients. By not listening to what their customers want they often shoe horn in inappropriate design ideas. Cutting edge youth concepts for an old people’s home or digital imagery for a handmade craft product for example. Secondly of course they are therefore not communicating with their client’s target audience as well. Reaching these potential customers is the idea of most graphic design after all.
Graphic design should reflect the ideals and vision of its subject. It can only take a glance to engage or lose a potential customer. Design should reflect the concept clearly, the idea shouldn’t need to be deciphered or jar. That isn’t to say that beyond first glance the imagery can’t become more challenging, you just don’t want to drive people away before they are engaged.
I have been lucky enough to work on graphic design projects in a variety of different languages over the years. Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Norwegian, Danish and Hungarian to name a few. One thing I have learnt from this is that basic graphic design, general design at a root level is universal. Many concepts and ideas translate visually when words wont.
At a business event recently the speaker advised that it can be harder to deal with customers who speak your language but have a different culture (the US v the UK for example) than with customers where you learn the culture and language side by side. You are forced to communicate more accurately, forced to look at what you are saying and how.
The same goes for graphic design. Some images and concepts are universal, others are not. Red, for example can be used in western culture to donate danger or excitement, while in China it is considered lucky.
When working with a creative team to plan your graphic design it is well worth bearing all this in mind. Who are you trying to reach? What message do you want to send? Will your audience understand or appreciate the imagery? Are you communicating clearly?
Over the years I have occasionally referred to myself as a graphic communicator and I wonder if some of the ideas of a graphical communication A level haven’t stood me in better stead than graphic design may have.