Interesting thoughts from Information Architects (@iA) on the seeming omnipresence of social media buttons on web articles.
An eye-opening reminder to those of us who create for a living: be sure what you do truly matters.
Click here or the title of this blog to be taken to the article after reading the bio of Linds Redding below.
British born, Linds Redding graduated with a degree in Graphic Design, and launched straight into a career in advertising having been told by a fellow student it was a guaranteed way of getting fabulously wealthy very young. Twenty five years later, he hunted down the person responsible and killed him with a baseball bat and buried the body in the woods.
Linds worked as an Art Director for several agencies in London and Edinburgh, before emigrating to New Zealand with his family in the mid nineties. He worked for most of NZ’s top creative agencies, Saatchi, DDB, Colenso and The Campaign Palace before leaving agency life at the millennium to pursue his interests in Motion Graphics and animation. For the past ten years, Linds has run a successful animation studio designing and producing TVC’s for tne New Zealand advertising industry.
In late 2011, at 51 Linds was diagnosed with inoperable Eosophigal Cancer. He has since given up work and spends his time at home on Waiheke Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf walking, writing, drawing and making music. He blogs on the tricky business of living and dying at lindsredding.com.
Who is Mark Boulton?
Mark Boulton is a graphic designer living in South Wales with his wife and two daughters.
He currently runs a small design studio, Mark Boulton Design, where he works with clients such as ESPN, Warner Bros, BBC, British Energy and Drupal. In the past, he has worked for the BBC and Agency.com designing wonderful experiences for all manner of clients and people across the world. He is also co-founder of small publishing imprint, Five Simple Steps, where they publish practical design books for the web community.
Mark has gifted the typographic community with an abbreviated but insightful series of writings about how to better one’s typographic prowess. They’re from a while back, but quite worth the read if you ever spend time setting type in any form, whether for print or web. It has definitely enhanced the framework I use to set type. I’d say more, but I would rather you spend the time reading the articles.
So without any further rambling I present the “Simple Steps…” series:
Getting clarity is tough. At times it’s quite a battle. Having to navigate the murky waters of the creative process riddled with dozens of opinions, personal preferences, and mis-information can cause your motivation and zeal toward the chance of creating something new to capsize under the lack of clear direction. There is little more discouraging than realizing all that could be done, yet having no clear direction as to which path to take.
Clarity is crucial. But can we realistically expect clients to know exactly what they want? If they knew exactly what they wanted, why wouldn’t they just make it themselves? I’m not saying designers have all the answers, but one thing we most definitely should be armed with is great questions. After all, it’s tough to find great answers when you’re not asking great questions. Figure out what you really need to know, then discover the answers together with the client. This is normal in many other fields, but for whatever reason that reality gets skewed in the design world.
A typical client coming to you and proceeding to tell you exactly what they want their design project to look like would be like an everyman telling a surgeon exactly how they would like their liver transplant done. It doesn’t work that way. In the same way that people go to doctors for professional surgery backed by years of schooling, mentoring, training, and experience to help them solve a difficult problem that is beyond their ability, so should people entrust designers. It would be absurd for you to go to a friend’s step-son for a critical surgery simply because he has a scalpal, yet it’s widely accepted to do just that when the same step-kid has a pirated copy of Photoshop.
Now hear me out, I’ll say again designers do not have all the answers, but designers do want you to have the best solution possible for your needs. However, designers can’t know all your needs unless we grill you with questions. Contrary to common practice, they shouldn’t just be questions for the client to tell what he or she wants, but more to show what tough question they are trying to answer. Often they’re trying to answer their own question then telling you to make their answer, when really they should present their question (problem) so the best answer can be discovered together.
Often the answer they bring is something like “We need a new website so people will buy more of our [insert product/service name here].” When really it would make more sense for them to come and say something like “We’d like to boost our sales/traffic/clients. Looking at our company how could we best do this in the world of [web/print/ads/billboards/e-mail/etc]?”
At this point the designer needs to be ready not to give answers, but to ask more questions. Great questions. Questions that help him discover what the company/client is all about. How they think, what they do, what they don’t do, what they’re good at, what they’re bad at, why they want more sales, and throughout this process attempt to have a better understanding of “the question/problem” than the client. Maybe they don’t need a direct mail coupon campaign, instead they need an e-mail campaign because their clients are not in the demographic that often gets mail (teens). Maybe they need well-designed billboard ads around town to raise their awareness rather than another 1″×2″ ad in the local PennySaver. Maybe their customer service stinks, and no matter how many new clients they happen to bring in, they’ll eventually lose every one of them. Maybe they don’t even need a website redesign, they just need more memorable branding. There has to be strategy, there are no quick fixes.
However, none of these [more appropriate] solutions would ever be uncovered without the asking of the right questions, extra questions, maybe even too many questions. This will save you innumerable hours of redesign, scrapped projects, and frustration when you seek to know as much as possible about where you’re going before you even push a single pixel.
Go above and beyond. Clarity is not easy. It’s not your client’s job to bring all the answers, that’s a part of why they’re bringing in a creative designer. Make them glad they did.
Learn who you are working for, with, and alongside of to unearth not just another good solution, but a great, clear, and concise solution that meets and succeeds their actual need. Directional clarity is often unearthed by first asking great questions rather than trying to just provide an answer.
We as creatives love to let our minds run wild, let our minds explore what already is and imagine what it could be. Imagine how it could be better. We try our hardest to see what the outcome of some idea is going to be. We try so hard to defy reality and see the future. We try to widdle away all the ideas we shouldn’t focus on, get to the one idea we should chase down with reckless abandon, we make a few iterations to give us a next-level-glimpse at what is to come, and then we go for it. This is where the true fun of creative work begins.
At this point we have focus, we have a goal, we have an end in mind and it’s breathe-takingly going to blow the minds of all who find the privelege of being in it’s presence and proximity. Or is it? We press on, reassuring ourselves “if I add this, or that, or these that it will really be getting close to finished.”
Or is it?
How do we know when something is done? How do we know that we know that we know it will have the impact we hoped, foresaw, and dreamed that it would. We told our leadership it would accomplish bullet points 1—7 of our goals, but will it? How can we find any form of confidence in our sea of unknowns, educated gueses, hopes, dreams, and in whether we want to admit it or not, attempts at greatness? Can we ever really know?
In short, we’ve all had that project we thought was amazing that was actually a flop, yet we’ve also had a project we thought was going to be a sure flop turn out amazing. But what made them different? What set them apart from one another? What made the success a true success and what made the flop a definitive and disaterous flop?
I feel like these are questions I am constantly toiling with. How do I know if this really is the right direction? How do I know if this is going to be enough effort? Ultimately, when is a project done? When does it have enough? When is minimalism honestly just not enough, but when is something just too much?
Knowing when something is done is tough. People will say sweeping quotes like:
A project is not done when there is nothing more to add, but nothing more you can take away.
While that sounds awesome, that doesn’t tell me when my color palate is finished, it doesn’t tell me if my texture matches the genre, time period, or style. It doesn’t tell me when it’s going to meet the expectations of my leadership even though I may like it as it is. It may be a really rousing quote when set in white Trajan text on a black background on the wall of your art appreciation class, but for me it’s not a real world answer. So really, when do yo know it’s finished?
Sadly for you (and me) there isn’t a formulaic answer to this question. It will be different to every project. Finished is a term our society is eager to achieve by exerting the most minimal amount of effort possible, no matter what the stakes. We grow up our whole lives learning how to haphaserdly save a buck or minute here and there only to spend that money and time on something we don’t need while spending that precious time so wisely on Twitter and Facebook. Is this our goal in life? Cut corners on what matters to have time and money for things that don’t matter?
To really know when something is truly finished, you have to know you’ve given it the right amount of time to really explore what else is possisble, so that you can know you should rule it out. You learn to trust your gut, or someone’s gut. Maybe it’s just always knowing there could be more, but this will have to do for now because it’s the very best I can give with the constraints I have.
For me, I think one of the best indicators I can have is to look back at a project and know that I gave my all to the time, resources, people, and knowledge that I had at that time. Yet I always hope that years later I can look back at anything I’ve done and known how I could have done it better. That distaste for my own work shows me that I’m always learning to be discontent with where I am, knowing it could be better.
This is (whether we like it or not) the creative process.