My Best Advice to Designer Wannabes? Become a Good Writer!
That may elicit a “huh, wha?” I’ve had the privilege to talk to many a young budding design person and, it seems, more than the average college girl who uses “like” as every other word or guy who uses “brah” (bro) every sentence, most designers tend to have a good head on their shoulders. Granted, if you’re going into the visual medium, one may think that’s where you you should be the best communicator, and you’re right, sorta. Granted I wanted to be a painter, but the prospect of being dead before I made money seemed, well, daunting. Graphic design and/or art direction seemed like a way to make money now, it’s not a free form and potentially has the downside of dealing with people who may not sure your vision (or brilliance), but you get paid fairly well, most of the time anyways.
When you work in the big leagues though there’s so much more than just ‘make pretty pictures,’ which, sadly, that’s how many colleges teach, after all, many professors are hiding behind ivy walls because they themselves couldn’t hack it in the real world. NOT all professors, but give me a professor with a BFA and 10 years of agency experience under their belt over ANY PhD, anywhere, the one with the BFA has been there in the trenches and will teach you more in two weeks than that PhD who’s spent 10 years of college and could hack an agency job for one day.
But I digress, when you design for a company, and that company is big, often you need to justify campaigns, sometimes an entire year’s worth. For every brand we’d launch at Oswego we’d have to do up an entire documentation set. How to deploy the brand internationally, how many spot colors and what order in the plates (press) would they run, and how would they work on different substrates like POLY, PET, aluminum, LCC, etc., what’s the smallest the logo should be. Etc. Etc. Yes, I know all this stuff, and yes, if you don’t, maybe you’re not ready for the big leagues. And yes, I had to justify the parts of everything I did, and not in a blowing smoke way, but rather, be specific and precise.
Here’s the deal, if you can actually honestly pull from inside of you the reasoning behind a brand, behind a logo, what is it supposed to evoke, what is the meaning, what’s the message, why is this logo made and what’s the logic for what you did, if you can be as creative visually to create really good artwork for branding and identity, you better damn well be able to come up with justification for it in a verbose, written way, if not, you’re not really a designer, you’re just a person going through the motions. Consider this tough love, but the truth. Learn how to write, and write as much as you can second to design, the more you write, just like design, the better you get good at it.
Below is an entire brochure I helped create based on developments surrounding an entire year of projects and planning for The Coca-Cola Company, working with various people that included branding managers to other designers to top brass. It’s where knowing branding, knowing marketing, and knowing design meet, if you can be that person, it’s just another powerful reason to hire you.