Feature Article: Killing Off Five Design Myths

A myth is really no more than a reference point for any given group; it’s a way of making sense of the group’s beliefs, actions and history. The mysterious beauty of the myth, however, is the very thing that makes it unreliable as a basis for modern decision making: it generally isn’t true.

The following myths are based on concerns I hear echoed by my design colleagues on a regular basis. These particular myths seem to run so deep that clients don’t even realize they are false, while designers have just about given into them. Whether you’re a designer or are looking to hire one, if you can identify these myths as they rear their serpentine heads you will find they are easy to slay. And the results, thankfully, will be better design.

Myth 1: Software makes design easy.
The modern-day accessibility of computers—and design software in particular—has fooled the general public into believing that technology makes the craft of graphic design easy to master. It isn’t. It takes years—and often, natural talent—to understand and know how to apply composition, balance, inspiration, conceptual and critical thinking, color theory, typography, and a host of other principles.

The software used to create a finished product are just tools, tools to be wielded by expressive hands. If those hands are unskilled, unschooled, or generally uninspired, the finished product will be, too. Photoshop, after all, does not allow the designer to bypass research and exploration; Dreamweaver cannot teach the designer how to lead the eye and structure sites logically for an end user. Practitioners who know specific software like the palm of their hand are incredibly valuable, but without the understanding of design principles, art history and a commercial marketing context, their value lies more in production and less with the creative process.

Myth 2: Creativity comes as easily with a tight deadline as without one.
Graphic designers are commercial artists, and so must execute their craft within typical business contexts. Budgets, resources and time are all considerations that inevitably inform our work, and deadlines are a fact of the designer’s life. But it is also important to recognize the effect that too-tight deadlines have on the creative process. Sure, there are tools and techniques we rely on to get the job done under a variety of conditions but, ultimately, the creative process is somewhat uncontrollable.

When a designer has limited time, it means certain steps must be foreshortened. This may mean less research, less time to explore ideas or concepts, fewer design options, or the jettisoning of any number of other pieces in the design process. It is a mistake to assume that the final outcome of a project completed under these circumstances will be as successful as it could be with a more appropriate timeline.

Myth 3: In order to design green, you need to spend green.
This may be the most damaging myth of all: that specifying environmentally sound printing is prohibitively expensive. There are so many avenues for going green these days that there is no reason doing so must lead to excessive costs. Recycled papers are now both quality- and cost-competitive, waterless printing prices are often comparative to conventional offset printing, and there are a host of other areas where a little thought and planning can reduce material waste. This includes the very design itself; asking specific questions at a project’s outset can make the greening process very nearly painless.

Myth 4: When in doubt, seek as many opinions as possible.
During a design project, feedback is fundamental. Designers must gather information from multiple sources to inform their process, and clients can certainly benefit from the opinions of others, particularly their own customers. But occasionally even the most efficient projects stall when a client just can’t decide on a solution presented to them.

Although careful thought and full consideration are important, second-guessing your designer can sometimes undermine an entire project. What often comes down to ego—designers may feel slighted, clients may need a larger sense of control over the process—can usually be prevented with a better understanding of the design process. Your designer should be able to work with you at the outset of your project to identify any concerns and issues that might arise, whether it’s color preferences, time constraints, or the buy-in of your board of directors.

Of course, things come up and minds can change. But trusting your designer is not as risky as it might seem. It can be helpful at these moments to remember why you hired your designer in the first place: for their professional expertise and body of knowledge.

Myth 5: When presented with several ideas, combine them into one fabulous logo.
Most projects begin with the presentation of several different design options. When a client can’t select a favorite, they may be inclined to pick and choose elements from each and ask their designer to create a logo or brochure from these various parts. This is a process known in the industry as Frankensteining, and the result is often monstrous.

When a designer presents multiple design options, each has been carefully considered: text placement, size of elements, composition and so forth. Combining different solutions willy-nilly inevitably results in work that seems disjointed, unbalanced and just plain “off.” If you are uncomfortable with particular elements, consider what it is about them that you don’t like and communicate this to your designer. Perhaps you just don’t like the color green, or you are drawn to the curve of a specific letter. Being as specific as possible can help your designer fine-tune one direction to create a focused, successful piece.

So there you have them. While there are plenty of other design myths out there, these five are particularly pervasive—and detrimental to the final product. Recognizing and applying the truths that lie behind these myths can help improve client-designer communication, increase client and designer satisfaction and produce better, more effective work.

© 2007, Jessica Sand/Roughstock Studios. Reprinted with permission. For additional articles and design ideas, visit http://www.roughstockstudios.com