Art Of Graphix: Understanding Who You're Designing For

Tradition counts for little when it comes to having a career in graphic design. I have seen quite a few changes within the industry, but the objectives and practice of "good" design have not altered.

Practicing design does not always mean understanding the purpose. You might find yourself creating websites without much more than a cursory knowledge of design. And that is alright. For there is no right way to begin. Having a formal education in design does not mean it is the only path, but it nonetheless requires you to understand the purpose of your design.

The method by which you communicate always varies. Use whatever tools and applications solve the communication objectives with which you are tasked. The tools are not as important as the goals. Your goals can only be effective if you can communicate clearly. And the only way to communicate clearly is by understanding who you are communicating to.

First and foremost, design is not about you. It is not about your preferences. It is not about what you like, find beautiful or cool. It is about your audience. Before you can design anything, you must first understand them. For example, if you are selling a car you are not communicating to a 5 year-old kindergarten student. Sometimes the best way to know who your audience is might be by knowing who they are not.

Learn About the History of Design

If you lack formal education, it is best to understand the craft but only in moderation. Yes, everyone borrows, but there is a vast difference between knowingly "building" upon the work of others and knowingly "borrowing" from the work of others. Borrowing teeters on the edge of stealing.

Observe the Practice of Design

Design is much more than assembling. As you move about life, pay attention to moments where you encounter design, billboards, road signs and messages covering the sides of trucks. Even when shopping you see designs on cereal boxes, book covers, movie posters, walls and storefront signs. Take note.

Design is everywhere. Rather than merely seeing design, begin to purposefully notice and perceive. Identify whether what you are seeing succeeds or fails in communicating a message by asking yourself these questions: Who is it speaking to? What is it saying? Not just in words, but through visuals and graphics, message and tone.

How does it solve the problem? Do the words and images work together, or do they contradict themselves? Is it effective in achieving a goal? For example, does the movie poster make you want to see the movie, or offer clues about the concept of the movie?

By cultivating your observational skills you simultaneously improve your ability to analyse your own responses and reactions to design. This understanding, in turn, can inform your design solutions by knowing what does or does not work.

Likewise before launching any project, no matter the size, you have to understand the project objectives. Who is the audience? What are you saying to the audience? How do you want the audience to respond?

As you begin to gather all the information required, become familiar with the materials you have. What was done previously? Did it work? Then determine the approach moving forward. If your approach is only focused on style with nothing to say, it will not make a lasting impression.

When I studied design it was drilled into us that, until we grasped the basics of a craft, there could be no art. And before there can be a masterpiece, there must be mastery. It is no different with design.

Keep it simple

Adding flourish and complexity is tempting because we believe it hides our weaknesses. The more rudiments added to a design, the more risk that the message is obscured. I totally agree, and it is still my view that the things that have the greatest longevity tend to be the most simple.

Embrace restrictions

Restrict yourself to a single, traditional typeface with many weights (such as Helvetica Futura or Garamond) to understand typography.

Limit trends

Just because something works for one project does not mean it will work for another. Relying on what is cool and popular sometimes clouds the purpose of a design.

Focus on results, not tools

Focus is far too often placed on the methods by which we solve a problem, rather than the validity of the solution itself. For example, a plumber might have a pair of corrosion-resistant water pump pliers, but if he cannot repair a leaky faucet then those tools are pointless. So a tool used to create a design is ancillary to the outcome. Use what works, not what sounds good on a resume.

Form a mindset of design

Starting a design career is easy. But growing, building, developing and maintaining your career is different. There are no certificates, licenses, formulas or rules to help you get to where you want to go. Sometimes luck, chance or good prayer does not work in your favour. Sometimes you do not get paid, or work on projects that you are ashamed of or even hate. Sometimes your hard work feels futile. That is just life and being a grown up.

You won't be famous

There aren't any reality TV shows revolving around graphic or web design, and if you ask the average person on the streets they will tell you the same thing.

You won't be rich

If your standard of wealth is the people who built Facebook, Apple, Twitter or Google, then no, you'll never be rich. But that doesn't mean you won't do well.

You won't have renowned work

Beyond the group of people who occupy the graphic design world, the average person is not even aware of the work you do. The fact is that almost everything you ever work on will be completely changed within a few years, let alone any of your work being life altering or world changing. But that does not mean that the work you have done is worthless.

Approach this career with a proper perspective. Like any other career there is no universal definition for success. The reward is the work, not the perception of the work.

Work hard, do well, be kind, be diligent while improving your craft, but also be patient. Cultivate relationships while building collaborative teams. Focus on delighting, informing, helping, impacting or enhancing the daily lives of your audience (even if it is just one person).

Finally, avoid dreaming about things that are completely out of your control. Instead, strive for personal fulfillment. Strive for balance, perseverance and satisfaction, which will result in lasting gratification. Until we meet again, fill your life with memories rather than regrets. Enjoy life and stay on top of your game!

NB: Columnist welcomes feedback at deedee21bastian@gmail.com

ABOUT COLUMNIST: Ms Deidre Bastian is a professionally trained Graphic Designer/ Marketing Coordinator with qualifications of MSc, BSc, ASc. She has trained at institutions such as: Miami Lakes Technical Centre, Success Training College, College of The Bahamas, Nova Southeastern University, Learning Tree International, Langevine International and Synergy Bahamas.


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