How can design be unique? Or can any idea be original these days? Brand designer Katri shares what inspired her curiosity and desire to produce design with a breath of fresh air.
In the spring of 2017, I sat in a plush, red velvet chair in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin, listening to the brilliant type designer, Bruno Maag, talk about his extensive career and experiences in the design world. The talk was a part of Offset - the conference that invites designers and illustrators from Ireland, UK, and beyond to make their yearly pilgrimage to learn about the most influential work and projects around.
As always, the programme was filled with inspirational speakers, but Bruno was THE ONE for me. I can still recall the topics he addressed, the poignant images he showed, and the sharp advice he shared, “What is wrong with all you modern Graphic Designers?! Kerning everything too tightly together. Letters need space to breathe!”.
I had come to Offset prepared. Brandishing a new notepad and pen, I was ready to jot down every nugget of wisdom shared. However, at the end of Bruno’s talk, my note pad was empty. I couldn’t risk putting my head down for one second, and miss, well, anything!
But there was no need for notes. His words were so powerful I can still remember them today.
His talk was authoritative, his approach strong, but above all else, he was unique.
Standing on the stage, addressing the crowd with a stern Swiss accent, his professional charisma and knowledge stemmed from a remarkable career of successes, some failures, and epiphanies.
Designers are often told to stand out from the crowd. To do their thing. To drive a gap between themselves and the competition. To separate themselves from others. To offer something nobody else can. And in an industry that is fast moving, and where the competition is fierce, to be unique.
The key for any designer in producing unique work is their ability to have an open and observing mind - to never stop looking. In the way that children soak up each bit of information, want to feel every texture and question even the simplest of things, being a designer is to notice things that others overlook, and to tell the story. Our interpretation of the world is what sets us apart and allows us to offer a fresh point of view.
At university I remember agonising over a student project, and one of my tutors looking at me, squinting his eyes, and saying, “Working on a design brief is like solving a puzzle. You need to get all the pieces to fit and click together. Otherwise, it will not make sense.” He couldn’t have been more correct. Even the best of ideas need to be precisely arranged and executed to set the right tone of voice.
And to achieve the right tone of voice, we also need to know how to listen, to read between the lines. To have an inkling of the correct approach for what the client wants to say, even when they don’t yet know it themselves. As Bruno said, “We are designers, not artists. We have a job to do.”
Those inklings often stem from a bank of ideas that I think every designer secretly keeps. Some designers never leave the house without a sketchbook. Others use their phone to take snaps of interesting things when they see them, or even record intriguing sounds or pieces of music that awaken their thought process. You often hear someone in the studio say, “Oh, I’ve got something interesting that might work for this, let me show you!”
Sharing is at the core of producing unique work. It is the process of coming together and sharing ideas that contribute the most. There is richness in watching your colleagues organise the same information available in a different way to yourself. Sometimes these create, well, heated discussions... and that’s ok too. Being critical of the work ensures its suitability.
Arriving at a solution takes time, and it is a process that sometimes extends past our normal working hours. A designer’s brain is never fully switched off. I often fall asleep with my head feeling very cloudy, with scattered pieces of the puzzle hanging over me. But then quite often I wake up with a sense of clarity, and know the steps I need to take to try and arrange those pieces. Sleep is a wonderful thing and proves that occasionally, we need to step away from the project to gain perspective, and to deliver better results.
Producing unique work is often driven by the desire to challenge and out-do ourselves. Professional development, with no finish line insight, is a part of being a designer. And while there is no simple way to measure uniqueness, the best indicators, in my opinion, are memorability and impact. When something touches you and speaks to you in a way that you can remember even after a considerable amount of time has passed, you can say that it is definitely unique.
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