Have you ever used the phrase “I meant to do that?” It’s a wonderful expression to convey that you did something on purpose. It wasn’t serendipity. It wasn’t luck. You planned it and carefully executed it according to that plan. It also works particularly well if you do something clumsy at work in front of everyone.
But, today we’re talking about purposeful, meaningful and relevant design, the kind that communicates an idea, tells a story and creates a reaction with the viewer. The kind of design where you can confidently say “I meant to do that”. Design that captures the essence of a message, often without words, but even more powerfully when aligned with a compelling narrative. And the best part is that the effect of a great design can be unique to the viewer’s own experience with it, and each viewer’s reaction will be different from everyone else’s, either slightly or vastly or anything in between.
So when we say “That was done By-Design,” what we are saying is that we did our homework, research and discovery on what we are trying to say and how best to say it. As commercial designers, we often get very abstract input from a client trying to define their brand. We hear things like “we’re smart and nimble” or “our brand story is confident and bold.” You look around the room at the graphics designers and everyone’s eyes are closed, trying to envision “confidence” while thinking about shapes and colors. The video designers are feverishly scratching in notebooks, compiling “confident” words and concepts. The print people are instantly calculating how large they can print before the design is visible from outer space. This is how designers start in their purposeful process.
Design is born from inspiration and delivered through perspiration. It’s not created for itself, it’s created for someone to experience. It’s both subtle and in-your-face. Its main purpose in life is to affect the viewer in some way and if it’s not doing that, then it’s not doing its job.
I often think of design like a song. Actually, songs are constructed using methodology that is similar to what you might use as a designer: identifying your message or story, discovering the way you wish to communicate it, planning your action, and executing that plan. And much like a song, if only you like it, you might be the only one on the dance floor. A design experience is a three-party proposition. There’s the designer, there’s the design, and there’s the people who are experiencing it. These three must come together in harmony to create a successful experience. How do you really know if you’re doing it right and delivering an effective design? Take a look at your audience and see if they’re dancing too.
Bob Pascarella is the Creative Director for The Fenway Group in Boston.
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