Category: design

Devaluation of Design

My response to In-House Designers discussion of the week: Devaluation of Design:

We work in a time where the tools of the trade can do as good a job as  it used to take a trained designer to do.

Proving the value of design is tall task as it can be so subjective. What is brilliant to one person is “meh” to another.

Measuring the value can make matters worse. Remember that scene in “Dead Poets Society” where the teacher has the student read the paragraph about how to measure the quality of a poem? Measurement is not the cure-all. There are so many outside factors that affect effectiveness – under certain circumstances even the very best design can be rendered useless.

In Corporate America, volume of work is often viewed as the key indicator for success. But volume does not equate to quality.

I believe…

Consistency is part of the answer – being able to communicate the brand no matter which platform or channel.

Technical excellence – the work should be tight and right every time.

Understand how to communicate to your audience. Most of the time your stakeholders do not know how to do this and this is a huge opportunity to increase the value.

Having agency

There are a few sayings I find interesting. One such term is “having agency”.

We’ll start with a definition:

The sense of agency (SA), or sense of control, is the subjective awareness of initiating, executing, and controlling one’s own volitional actions in the world. It is the pre-reflective awareness or implicit sense that it is I who is executing bodily movement(s) or thinking thoughts.

In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure is those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and his or her decisions.

 

A sense of control. Isn’t that what we all want in life, even the most meek and humble person. The capacity to make your own choices, actively making your own decisions that determine your own future.

Of late, I have had little agency. In my full-time job, decisions are made for me by people who feel perfectly at ease filling up my time. Needless to say, life has not be fulfilling in recent times.

I am tired of it.

Back on September 26, 2016 I started this site as a way for me to share things I find and think about. If you read through these pages, you’ll find I think about a variety of different things.

But I also started this site very much with the intention of morphing it into a business. My business. My agency. I ran a small one-man freelance business for about a year and half starting at the end of 2008 when I lost my job. It was hard having my own business and I worked incredibly long hours, but I loved it.

My business was called it Ratcliff Creative because I did not want to get pigeon-holed with the word “Design”. There’s nothing I relish more than being a Designer and practicing Design, but sometimes there is a stigma attached to being a designer. I chose to avoid any form of negativity.

I do not want to relaunch Ratcliff Creative, even I though I still own the name, the domain and have a bank account for it. Rather, I find the “Creative” part of it now limiting. Creativity is a tool. A verb, not a noun. With that in mind, I wanted to come up with a name that had no boundaries. Thus was born rat etc. A business, a blog, or both?

Will rat etc become a business? Maybe. Is it top of mind for me? Absolutely.

Civility

About 20 years ago, I was at the bookstore and stumbled upon The Ice Palace That Melted Away: Restoring Civility and Other Lost Virtues to Everyday Life by Bill Stumpf, the designer of Herman Miller’s Aeron chair. I quickly snatched up the book and could not wait to dig into it. Oh, the things I’d learn, peering into the mind of one of the world’s foremost designers.

Wait a minute.

This isn’t a book about design. All he talks about is civility, being nice to people and how the modern world is crashing down all around us because we’re so rude to each other.

What a load of malarky. Or is it?

Admittedly, I did not finish the book. (Truth be told, there are more books than I care to count that I have not finished, but they sure look good up on my shelf.) I did not learn a darn thing from this book. I didn’t get into the head of a genius, rather I spent my time on this crazy rant about manners. Phooey.

20 years later, and the lessons from the book resonate with me as much or more than just about any book I have read on design. Much in the same way Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World should be require reading for all design students, Mr Stumpf’s short treatise should be as well.

I wrote a short piece dealing with a lack of civility a few weeks ago and this is a follow up. Actually, that piece was more about courage than anything else, but a lack of understanding, manners, respect, courtesy and decency was the impetus for the story.

Today, being kind, thoughtful and polite is more important than ever. Especially in our modern civilization where those qualities are quickly falling by the wayside.

Any form of design — whether it be a product, a site, a piece of communication or whatever — basic manners should always be a top consideration. At all costs, make sure you are reaching the right people and treat them with the utmost respect. Always.

Charles Eames once quipped that the role of the designer was similar to that of the host of a dinner party (I paraphrase). Not only do you want your guests to have a wonderful meal, but you want them to feel comfortable and completely at ease, ready to soak up a good conversation and wonderful evening.

This should always be the same objective of every design brief.

UX, more than any other design discipline, should hold this rule as paramount. There is no faster way to disengage with a user than to irritate them, annoy them, talk down to them, make assumptions about them or make them feel anything less than important. The outcome of good UX should be totally engaging, or in a more civil world, welcoming.

The Pink Pussy movement last year was hailed as a triumph of branding because it rallied a huge women’s movement. Everyone has the right to voice their opinions and they should. But the branding and messaging they choose for the movement is not only offensive, it is just plain wrong. For anyone who disagrees with me, please explain the symbolism and point of the messaging to my 12 year old son. What they were projecting was not inclusiveness, it was for shock value and it was divisive. I also did not like seeing the way it made my two daughters feel. That, IMO, was counter to everything they stood for.

Stumpf’s book is more relevant than ever.

I do not think we are as polite as we once were. Maybe we never were all that polite. I’ve always contended that drivers in my part of town are rude, although over the past few years they do seem to have gotten much worse.

How can we change this?

It goes much more beyond a simple act of kindness to a stranger. We need civility on a much larger scale more than ever. As designers and professional communicators, it is our greatest responsibility to promote understanding, offer a friendly hand and speak in a kind voice.

What are steps we can take to help create a more civil world?

Week links, #06

CREATIVITY

Who Is Robert Cialdini? Meet the Master of Influence and Persuasion
Dr. Robert Cialdini is the mind behind Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, one of the great and enduring works of social psychology, along with a number of other books, including Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. Cialdini’s work is among the world’s best resources on how we persuade others and how we are persuaded.

New study reveals why some people are more creative than others
It’s not just your ability to draw a picture or design a product. We all need to think creatively in our daily lives, whether it’s figuring out how to make dinner using leftovers or fashioning a Halloween costume out of clothes in your closet. Creative tasks range from what researchers call “little-c” creativity – making a website, crafting a birthday present or coming up with a funny joke – to “Big-C” creativity: writing a speech, composing a poem or designing a scientific experiment.

The One Thing You Need to Generate Great Ideas
A drawing is worth a thousand words. That’s my version of the age-old adage. When it comes to expressing the functional and emotional merits of a new idea, I firmly believe you have to make it visual.

ADVERTISING

Check Out Adweek’s Instant Reviews of Every Ad in Super Bowl LII
See all the spots again, plus our thumbs up or thumbs down

It’s Time to Stop Devaluing Creativity
TBWA Worldwide’s CEO reflects on how tech is creating more room for big ideas

IAB CALLS BLOCKCHAIN ‘NATURAL FIT’ FOR DIGITAL VIDEO ADVERTISING
The IAB says blockchain technology “is a natural fit for the digital advertising supply chain” with potential to increase efficiency, reduce costs and eliminate fraud. Blockchain can also significantly reduce the number of queries that ad-tech systems need to make each second; ensure that premium video inventory is bought and sold reliably; reduce the number of suppliers and increase transparency, according to the IAB.

Far Too Many Creatives Are Wasting Their Energy on Drivel
Need I make any additional remarks?

INTERVIEW: Dave Trott
As far as creatives were concerned GGT stood for ‘someone beginning with ‘G’, Someone beginning with ‘G’ and DAVE TROTT’.

BUSINESS

The Future of the Chief Procurement Officer… Is already here.
CPOs (Chief Procurement Officers) is the function in charge of leading this transformation. Many leaders within the procurement world are ready to realize the change that lies ahead. This much is clear after hearing about the CPOs that praised coming disruptions and transformations within procurement at DITx. This is a new breed of CPO.

DESIGN

Becoming a More Thoughtful User Experience Designer
The difference between creating good experiences and amazing experiences often comes down to how thoughtful we can remain during the design process.

The ultimate guide to user experience
The secret to a good UX is not to make users have to think about what they’re doing: it should come naturally to them to find what they’re looking for and interact with your site. In a web design agency, user experience may be the responsibility of the team as a whole or a specific UX designer. There are even entire firms that specialise in user experience consultancy.

Interview with Barry Katz, IDEO first Fellow, on Design Thinking.
Barry Katz is IDEO’s first Fellow and Professor of Industrial and Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, and Consulting Professor in the Design Group, Department of Mechanical Engineering, at Stanford. He is the author of six books, including (with Tim Brown) Change By Design, and most recently, Make it New: The History of Silicon Valley Design (MIT Press, 2015).

Future of Print: How Design Brought it Back from the Dead
When we were sitting on our family computers in the basement of our parent’s Midwestern homes, downloading music from Napster, Limewire, and What.cd, we had no idea we were part of a revolution—a way of getting and hearing music that would fundamentally change the industry forever. We eventually quit because it was illegal and not worth the viruses, but not before that fundamental shift occurred. Nearly twenty years later, we don’t even bother with owning digital files, we stream them from various services. And we collect vinyl.

ODDS & ENDS

We Are Our Own Typos
As Wired summarized the problem a few years ago: “The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.” They go on to explain that one of the great skills of our big brains is that we build mental maps of the world, but those maps are not always faithful to the actual world.

Quick side comment about typos: I accidentally left a typo in an article I posted on LinkedIn last weekend. It made me eternally happy when I got a note from someone notifying me of my mistake. Someone actually read what I wrote!

 

When I grow up

This past week I listened to a lengthy interview with Paul Weiland. If an interview is a good one, it gets you to thinking. About the interviewee’s life and yours.

I heard a number of parallels between me and Weiland. A passion for advertising, hard working and asthmatic to name a few. But I also heard differences.

He talked a lot about wanting to be a director, even from early on in his career. This got me to thinking about why I got into the business and where I want to go.

I never wanted to be an artist or a photographer or illustrator or painter or printer or anything else other than a designer. Part of it is that I’ve always had a passion for ephemera and communications that are of a graphic nature.

Ahhh … a page from the 1977 Letraset catalog. Heaven!

The other part of it is that I could never be an artist. Really.

I could never be an artist because I’m not particularly good at initiating a project out of me own head. Yes, I have inspiration and I think about things all the time — like a series of t-shirts I have in mind at the moment — but I’ve never have this burning urge to express myself that way artists do.

Latest idea rumbling around in my head – a series of t-shirts.

Rather, I take immense pleasure in helping other people realize their vision and bring their ideas to life. Even better, if someone tells me what they are wanting to do and they let me go figure out the best way to achieve it. Problem solving.

I’ve always wanted to be a designer, never anything else.

Sure, I might call myself (and even be) an Art Director, a Creative Director, Production Artist or a Webmaster, but at the heart of it all I will always be a capital “D” Designer.

This is mainly because I have a very designerly approach to life and work. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a new ad campaign, a fresh graphic identity or writing a business proposal, I use the same methods every time.

Charles Eames, considered one of the greatest designers of the 20th century, always thought of himself first and foremost a craftsman. I’ve always liked that. Too many creative folks struggle with who they are and who they want to be. If you want to make art, grow a pair and get your art out into the world. If you want to write novels, get out of the agency biz the Peter Mayle did.

Be true to yourself and you will come out in your work, even if you feel you have nothing to say.