Design can be _____.

one dimensional.
overly simplistic.

There. I’ve said it. And I feel only slightly better. You may sense my frustration with graphic design. You can’t live in it. You can’t wear it. With the computer’s advent, you can’t even touch it anymore. Just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s. Turn the power off and it doesn’t exist (yes, I know, some clients still have money for print). So how do you use it to communicate, to bring about change, to speak to the heart?

You see, I’m decompressing from a two week tour of Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York City. At every turn I was confronted with stunning architectural design, industrial design and interior design. These other design disciplines are far more complex and challenging than graphic design. Graphic designers pat themselves on the back when they come up with an award winning identity, a nifty website or novel ad campaign. But who are we fooling? It’s child’s play compared to architectural design. If you’ve ever stood on top of the Empire State Building (or remodeled an old home for that matter), then you’ll know what I mean. Several years ago I read an interview with Stefan Sagmeister, one of my favorite graphic designers. He said was tiring of graphic design and wanted to try film. For someone at the top of his field, I thought this odd. I noticed the same about Tibor Kalman who founded the legendary M&Co. He chunked it all at the height of M&Co’s success to be the founding editor of the magazine COLORS.


I think its because graphic design is like having training wheels on your bike when you are first learning to ride. Graphic design provides an easy entry point (thanks to the computer) for other creative fields. We “professionals” may whine about how everyone with Photoshop is now a self-labeled “graphic designer”, but I think it’s great. For those of us whose creativity was suppressed by scores of college classes in math, physics, engineering and other science related drudgery, graphic design is a unintimidating way to discover our heart’s visual language. The problem arises once our hearts are able to speak, graphic design and its current outlets (mainly advertising) become a hindrance to personal growth and creativity. Graphic designers should hike into other fields of design as they mature in their creativity. Training wheels are good, but we must remove them or our creativity will become boring, trendy, one dimensional, restricted, self-indulgent, insecure and overly simplistic.

2 Responses to “Design can be _____.”

  1. Michael

    Indeed, anyone can design.

    Anyone can also sing.
    Anyone can also give a speech.
    Anyone can paint.

    Few voices stir the heart.
    Few speeches move to action.
    Few paintings are hung in Paris.

    Few designs communicate.

  2. Anonymous

    Now this is interesting…. The underlying unanswered question is what makes graphic design so exciting when you start and so unsatisfying once you get the hang of it for a good number of years? My wild guess would be it’s limitation in making a better world.

    Design is about fulfilling a desire, first, for things in a consumer society, but also for a sense of order in our lives. Our crazy post-modern little screwed-up world is so out of control in so many ways that the idea that you can make things look better is almost ludicrous. But on a deeper level it’s still more than just esthetics, but survival: a taste of our real entitlement – you can have a taste of a heavenly kingdom but don’t think it’s going to be handed over. Not in this world, anyway…
    Design, to me, is about Hope.


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