THE CAREER DESIGNER’S KISS OF DEATH
Bold Statement: There are two types of Graphic Designer.
Bold instant retraction: Actually, there are thousands of types of designers. I for one class myself as an illustrative neo-traditional* graphic designer. That’s technically four subcategories of design in one.
What I mean when I say there are two types of graphic designer is that they generally fall into two distinct camps. Like foods that are savory or sweet. There’s a myriad of variants within those two groups but very rarely any crossover. The two categories of designer I want to discuss here are ‘Career Designers’ and ‘Calling Designers’. And like a Heston Blumenthal tasting menu, the savoury and sweet can look deceptively similar, but they sure as hell taste different.**
Up top I will say that I believe myself to be a Calling Designer. So that’s my bias out in the open, although I will try my best to discuss the pros and cons of each group impartially.***
The Career Designer
The Career Designer does a job, they clock in at nine and leave at five, and switch off from their design duties the second they step away from their laptop. They decided what they wanted to do at a job fair, and learned the key design programs and rules like an accountant masters Excel. They are responsible for much of the forgettable, mediocre and bad design we see the world, and if you told a Career Designer this they would be unlikely to care. Their workflow is a production line, creating work quickly, systematically and usually to a serviceable standard. They exist through sites like Fiver, occupy decade long positions in dusty in-house design teams, or generic overpriced marketing agencies that throw in a logo with their SEO package. The pros are often their speed, resilience to criticism and reliance on familiar design techniques. These are also their cons. Speed shows a lack of care and attention. Designers should push back against criticism when required, after all, they are supposed to be the design expert in the relationship. Familiar design techniques, though reliable and inoffensive can often be dull, forgettable and without character.
The Calling Designer
The Calling Designer knew, in one form or another, what they were going to be from a young age. They’ve been training for this their whole lives, subconsciously and under the surface. Calling designers may even come to design later in life after years of suppressing what felt like an over exacting nature and obsession with aesthetics. They master design programs and learn rules, not like a chore, but like an exploration into their own developing styles. They are responsible for most of the greatest design work being produced, but also some of the very worst. They can become high minded and create only for the sake of other designers, ignoring the initial purpose of the project itself. They occupy a highly competitive space, yet largely appreciate the qualities and output of other rivals if it meets their high visual standards. They believe in what they make, defend it, sometimes angrily, to neigh sayers, and expound on its uses, qualities and the connections it will make. The idea of putting out a sub-par piece of work flies in the face of their principles. They take the time, whenever possible to learn more about projects. They underpin any design choices with solid reasoning and demand of themselves that project, is not just fit for purpose, but exceeds its purpose and resonates with its audience.
Sweet And Savoury
Back to this analogy again. There can be occasional amalgamations. Sweet chili sauce, for example, is a Career Designer who has accidentally become an expert in app design and elegant functionality. Honey glazed ribs are clearly a Calling Designer who out of financial necessity finds themselves in a long term restrictive role with only glimmers of true creative boldness. And I think we all know who Sweet and Salty popcorn is. Cheeky little Career Designer that developed a true passion for brochure design in their late thirties. Tastes can change and shift, and very few things are wholly isolated.
Case Study Time
Recently we worked on a rebrand for a recycling company, called Safer Surfacing, which makes new surfacing for landscaping from recycled car tyres. We snapped up the opportunity to work with this company, falling in love with the idea of growing plant life through a material that in other forms has gone a long way to destroying it.
Only a couple of years before they’d had a rebrand from one of the generic marketing agencies I briefly mentioned about. This is what the brand looked like after one the agency’s in house Career Designers was finished with it. I can say with a level of certainty that this would be almost identical to most of the other logos that the agency produced for clients that year. Not in that it was a house style, more that it was a styleless house.
It has no character, and the most memorable thing about it was its vague similarity to Subway branding. It made no connection with their audience, said nothing about the brand and was forgotten within seconds of seeing it.
When we started working on Safer Surfacing’s rebrand we asked enough questions to get a real feel for where they wanted their business to be, what they wanted to achieve and the kind of customers they wanted to attract. Although they supply surfacing for many uses, playgrounds, horse arenas, chicken runs, etc., they really wanted to draw focus to its landscaping uses.
What we created for them shows a bounty of stylised plant life blooming from their company name, inspiring ideas of rebirth, growth, nature and creation. The colours are vibrant and engaging, the style friendly without out being childish. The overall design isn’t just fit for purpose, but it’s considered, unusual and tells the story of the company.
The truth is when they hired the first agency to create their paint by number rebrand, they had a limited budget they could commit to the project. But by going cheap and quick the work had to be done twice and within two years it had cost considerably more than if they had chosen the right kind of designer in the first place. You get gold for gold.
So, there are pros and cons to each type of designer. There are different standards, styles, speeds and scenarios**** involved with every project. When hiring a graphic designer or design agency for your project, it’s important to choose the right one. No one wants Pea and Ham soup for pudding.
Oban Jones, Creative Director
*An interest in traditional design methods and styles and their place in contemporary design practises.
**Disclaimer: Don’t lick, nibble, chew or in anyway attempt to taste a designer without their express consent.
***I realise I have automatically failed in my impartiality with a quick glance at the title of this post. Oops.
****If you have a lisp and are having to read this out loud I apologise for this sentence.