Why good design is not all about cool (and the day I walked into a cupboard).
I went to a cafe the other day - you know, one of those really arty cafés where everyone sits with their headphones on, staring at laptops whilst sipping lattes. The ones where everyone turns round and glares if you're not a regular or you aren't wearing Converse. After my initial tumbleweed entrance, I tried to look around for clues as to how the hell I went about ordering a drink. Do I go to the counter or do I sit down? Do I pay first or after? I had to do the unthinkable, the total faux-pax in coolness; I had to ask. The waiter, who was stood behind a chilled selection of gluten free, organic, vegan sandwiches, gave me one of those 'you're not from around here' kind of looks. He informed me of the ordering process and then told me that extra seating was to the left. I proceeded to open the rustic door immediately on my left and walked into a cupboard.
No kidding, I actually walked into a cupboard.
Apparently it wasn't that left.
But what does my inability to act cool in very arty settings have anything to do with design, I hear you ask? Bear with me.
If you work in the creative industry you'll probably have noticed that every other creative professional or business is an expert in design (well, of course they are). The problem is that there is often a bit of back-biting and ego boosting involved with asserting so-called professionalism. For example, I've read posts by other designers about why another company's logo design isn't cool, and pretentious status updates as to why creatives shouldn't use the term 'typography' when they mean 'lettering' or that they're using the word 'brand' in the wrong context (cue rolled eyeballs). You call my work whatever the hell you like, all I'm bothered about is that it's done to a high standard and that it works (and that people pay for it, of course!). Creatives have become obsessed with what is 'cool', or more so, what is 'uncool' without thinking properly about whether a design is accessible to it's audience or not. Sure, you've just come up with a really cool iconic device, but Joe Bloggs doesn't get it and he won't be buying into your designs. We've become obsessed with impressing other creatives, and that's all good except they're not always our target audience. Does it matter that another designer doesn't like your concept if it's selling products? Does it matter that I just made myself look uncool in a cafe full of arty people when I'm making a decent living out of, well, art?
You can talk the talk but unless your designs are accessible to the right audience they are useless. Is it easy to understand? Will people buy into it? Sure, people think your work is cool, but what would be more impressive is if Miss Finchley switched her brand of shampoo because the packaging you designed looks amazing. What you should want more than awards if for Mr Jones to have the song for the advert you created etched on his mind so that whenever he needs car insurance he thinks of your client first. What you should want more than cool is that Mrs Smith just bought her kids a book because the pictures you illustrated in it look great. Who should creatives be trying to impress? Everyday, normal people, that's who - people who buy into stuff; people who shop for groceries and books; people who part with their hard-earned cash; people who tell their mates about stuff and share it on social media.
People who walk into cupboards, even.
See, you don't have to concern yourselves with whether someone else's designs are cool, how many awards they've won or whether they eat organic sandwiches. Just focus on producing your own great work - work that sells stuff. You don't have to worry yourselves as long as your business is profitable and customers keep coming back, do you? And if they don't, do your research and adapt your business, change stuff, develop the branding, move a cupboard. I'm not saying we shouldn't seek admiration from our peers or stop producing cool stuff, but let's not forget why we are doing this. Unless our advice is genuinely sought after, let's stop the critique and crack on with our own work. Although it's vital we get inspiration and advice from other good creatives, let's not forget who we are really trying to impress.
Am I making a living out of what I do? Yes. Are my clients happy? Yes. Does it matter that I don't fit in with pretentious arty people or drink coffee? No. Will I think twice before immediately turning left? Probably.