In 1979, Herbert Bayer said, “The creative process is not performed by the skilled hand alone, or by the intellect alone, but must be a unified process in which 'head, heart, and hand play a simultaneous role.” This process which Bayer refers to is what we call design.
The American modernist Paul Rand won the trust of corporate clients and created advertising design that helped define both an era and some of its most famous brands. His stylebooks reinforced the notion that design is the planning, the system; it is a process by which we organize and communicate, not a flashy pattern or a white gloss finish. The great corporate identities and visual systems created in the mid 20th century – Paul Rand's work for IBM and ABC, Chermayeff & Geismar’s Chase logo – are striking, lasting examples of design implemented from the very inception of a thought. This might strike some as a given, but we are now experiencing a time in which the very role of design has been jeopardized.
The call for clear design in advertising and visual communications has never been louder. Meanwhile, we are well into a realm of visual overload that has created a sensory apathy. And we are only exponentially gaining momentum down this difficult path. These “experiences”… we have to sort though them and make sense of them. They’re overused, clichéd pastiche: it’s eye candy, and it’s not that aesthetically pleasing either.
When design is at the core of one’s communication and is the foundation for experience, the effect can be dramatic and defining. Take the example of Target, a brand that has literally reinvented itself through design. Its branding strategy, albeit excluding its in-store experiences, is one that has led to a logo recognizable by 97 percent of Americans. Target’s affiliation with some of design’s leading voices in fashion and lifestyle has elevated customer perception as a hub for low cost chic. Design as corporate advantage was at the heart of (Target’s former CEO) Bob Ulrich’s company management. It was the principle focus and approach utilized to set it apart from other retailers, and continues to be at the core of the company’s corporate culture.
At the Innovation Uncensored conference, Nike's president and CEO Mark Parker said, “Designers should sit at the table with managers” because, he noted, “designers are inquisitive and turn inquisitiveness into innovation.” This acknowledgment of creativity’s place in the corner office was more than self-justification – for who better to help lead a major brand than an enterprising former designer of the actual physical product?
All of these design-minded business leaders have the ability to communicate clearly and intelligently about design – both acknowledging its integral role and putting design principles to work early on in the process. What if more business leaders and the agencies they enlist, when dealing with image, brand, and identity, thought this way? What if we were all to put form aside, and focus on function – on actual long-term visual solutions that stand the test of time.
Otherwise, we are doomed to the status quo: a marginalized perspective that confuses design with adding “graphics,” some type, or visually arresting but altogether inconsequential animation at the end of a project. Design is not eye-candy, it is and should be the core of a holistic campaign.