Graphic Insight

To mark the publication of his new book, 'Graphic Design For Art, Fashion, Film, Architecture, Photography, Product Design and Everything In Between', Andy Cooke shares five key insights from the interviews within...

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Published this month by Prestel, Graphic Design For Art, Fashion, Film, Architecture, Photography, Product Design and Everything In Between explores the forward-thinking ways in which graphic designers are working today, and the impact and reach that the discipline can have upon almost every aspect of our lives. Written by Andy Cooke, creative director of Weather (and with a foreword by our very own Angharad Lewis), the book features an extensive selection of recent projects spanning brand identities, campaigns, printed work and publications, accompanied by in-depth interviews with their creators which shed light on the way they think, work, collaborate and innovate. 

For today's Take Five, we asked Andy to choose five key insights from within these interviews, followed up with his own thoughts on both the questions they raise and the ideas they address. Read on...

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“Do you feel designers must expand their technology based skillsets to stay relevant?”

“Diversification of skill set is probably a more contentious point now than ever before. You only need to look to Twitter to stumble upon the heavily memed statement ‘designers should learn to code.’ For us, disciplines like motion, 3D, development, typography and industrial design are tools that help to tell a narrative. Sometimes appropriate, sometimes less so. What I do feel passionately about is the irresponsible nature in which these phrases are touted to younger, impressionable creatives cutting their teeth. Becoming an author of relevant ideas lives beyond any medium.” – Jowey Roden, Koto (Augustus Pili)

This bone of contention seems to be more and more prevalent in creative circles – now more than ever, as Jowey mentions. Across every platform on which peers are conversing, this subject matter tends to divide opinion. For me, focus is key. As an employer and director, I’d prefer to have an individual in my team that excels in a single craft through focused experience than someone who is okay at a number of things. Their skills are stretched, and it’s and indication to me that their quality of concept through to execution could be stretched also. Whilst it’s attractive for design leaders to work with teams that span attributes, having key people for key output tends to produce better design in the long run.

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“How important is graphic design to the wider design industry?”

“I actually think that pretty much everyone in the wider design industry thinks they can do graphic design. How hard can it be, right? People do understand the value of good graphic design, they just think they can do it as well as a trained graphic designer. Graphic design can sometimes be a hard sell, unlike an architect, for example.” – Michael C. Place, Build (3angrymen / Generation Press)

This subject matter formed much of the foundation of my thinking for the publication in the first place. Graphic design is so accessible as a medium that any creative person feels they can produce graphic designs competently — which is part of an wider issue. How we, as an industry, can work to legitimise graphic design and its value has been another ongoing conversation for a long time, with ideas such as compulsory licenses to practice, as in the field of architecture, being heavily debated. Selling graphic design can be very difficult, especially without these licensing bodies to lean against for clarity or legitimisation. At the moment, associations that provide any shred of legitimisation tend to be reserved for the experienced, coveted and better off. How do we help those further down the pile?

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“How much does a client’s understanding of graphic design affect the design process?”

“I can only speak from my experience working in Norway, but in almost every project designers have to educate the client. Not only in the understanding of what design is, but also the true meaning of design — its purpose, so to speak. But, saying that, I think graphic designers in particular also need to become better listeners. We have to understand the client and ‘audience’, not just listen with half an ear and interpret the client in a way we find visually intriguing as designers.” – Torgeir Hjetland, Work In Progress (Storyline Studios)

The process of design is something that I’ve personally spent a long time trying to put into some rational order, so that clients across all disciplines understand what we do, how we do it and why it’s worth what we’re saying it is. I’ve found that process is so different from one client to the next, that anything ‘in place’ only does so much of the work when it comes down to it. These processes need to be custom built for every client and every project, and the way we build those comes from listening to the client to understand their needs and wants. Every designer is guilty of forcing subjectivity into design routes (admit it) and often attempting to post-rationalise style and influence into a concept to make ourselves feel good about our job (admit it again). However, unless we truly understand the client and their needs, we’re creating empty work that isn’t worth a thing.

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“Do you find working with clients in the creative industries to be easier or harder than working with non-creatives?”

“An increased pool of knowledge, if managed correctly, will not necessarily allow for an easier working method, but one that has the potential to deliver a richer and more varied set of outcomes. In a scenario like this I would say that project management and how the creative team communicates with each other is of utmost importance.” – Peter Chadwick, Popular (This Brutal House)

I’ve worked across a great deal of creative and cultural projects, with a host of amazingly talented creative people in a number of different creative fields. I’ve had some terrible experiences which have burned bridges, along with incredible experiences that have opened doors. I cannot echo Peter’s point enough that communication is key. A structure built entirely around how communication will work between parties at the start of any project is the difference between bridges and doors — internally, externally and everywhere in between. Make sure your communication level is high and there will be more doors opened than you can handle.

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“Do you have expertise or interests in other walks of design that have spawned due to working with clients in those fields?”

“Of course. Through design, my appreciation of visual art and the arts in general has grown exponentially. Like most designers, I love type and taught myself to make a typeface from scratch. I now know increasing amounts about web development, user experience, print, environmental design, photography, animation, et cetera. I think it’s an inevitable part of the design process and the curious minds it attracts.” – Ben Crick, Collins (Room Essentials)

In comparison to the first point from Jowey above, leaning into other skill sets as a result of working within necessary fields is inevitable. As far as influence goes, necessary. And for context, essential. Whilst I don’t feel graphic designers should know how to code or animate (or whatever), it’s amongst the most important of skills to be knowledgable of how those fields work, so designing for them and working alongside those who excel in those fields is seamless. Understanding limitations and also possibilities of these areas actively brings new conceptual thinking to the table, which wouldn’t exist otherwise. Perspective is a powerful tool that makes the graphic design machine well oiled.

Graphic Design For Art, Fashion, Film, Architecture, Photography, Product Design and Everything In Between is out now, published by Prestel. To get your hands on a copy, click here to visit the website.

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