A couple of months ago we took a trip to the Pentagram offices in Needham Road, West London to attend a talk by designer, Pentgram partner, author and all round nice-guy Angus Hyland. The talk focused on symbols and was organised in conjunction with the publication of Symbol, the recent book by Hyland and Steve Bateman. The talk was utterly brilliant and the book is equally so. Highly recommended.
Whilst I could write at length about the talk itself and the points Hyland raised, there was one thing he said that particularly stuck out for me. When talking about the more unusual, quirky and perhaps even awkward logo designs from years gone by Hyland said…
“If you go through the wind tunnel you will never end up with your quirky Pirelli logos* – everything becomes anodyne. Quirkiness comes about through a combination of client naivety and budget.”
The ‘wind tunnel’ effect he was referring to was the client approval process. The part of any design project were the client (or group of clients) make changes, tweaks and amendments to the design which ’round off the edges’ and essentially dilute the purity of the original concept.
This post is certainly not a rant about the client asking for changes to be made. Good design can work brilliantly as a collaboration between the designer and the party who are paying for the service. I’m not an artist and the creative work I produce is not a vehicle to express my own views and opinions. It’s design, and it’s sole purpose is to communicate the messaging of the client or product. The kind of designer who throws a tantrum at the request to make changes should maybe consider a change of profession. That said, there are certain changes which can take a significant amount of the core idea away from the design and result in the original thinking behind the design being, at best, watered down or possibly even lost completely.
What could go wrong?
The addition of pointless or confusing brand elements. The insistence on colour, type and layout changes to appease personal taste. The request to add something in an attempt to ‘fill up the white space’. Requests of this kind don’t necessarily ‘ruin’ a design, and there are times when they may even improve it. More often than not though, the result is a ‘meet in the middle’ compromise which leaves the concept of the design in a state of limbo.
Is there a way to combat these changes?
Well, yes. But it’s not easy. If you don’t want the thinking behind your design to end up in a conceptual no mans land, the only answer, I’m afraid, is to have WPI — ‘Wind Proof Ideas’. Ideas so fucking brilliant that no amount of client input will affect them. Ideas which stand up to the most rigorous cross examination and come out intact. If you have a valid reason for every single design decision you make and a well-reasoned argument against every request which takes the design a step further away from it’s original brilliance, you’ve done it. You’ve come up with a design concept so spot-on that the wind tunnel of client feedback can’t rob it of its the purity and soften the corners.
A very simple defence, but far from easy to achieve.
Another key factor to this situation is obviously trust. However brilliant, original and inherently ‘right’ your idea is for a particular piece of communication, the client needs to agree with you on some level. They may have concerns and doubts (after all, it’s their money), they may even be scared (as Bernadette Jiwa rather eloquently points out here), but your job as a designer with a good idea is to reassure, explain and educate why the idea will work brilliantly and not be improved by the addition of a huge logo. Some clients will take a bit of convincing, others will take a lot, some will point blank refuse to be convinced, but if the idea is mind-blowingly good enough it is our duty to push it past these niggling worries and into fruition.
Perhaps the days of characterful, slightly weird looking Pirelli style logos are behind us and the approval process of the corporate machine will blunt any sharp edges on anything with a suggestion of quirkiness. But if the ideas are amazing and the thinking behind the design is strong enough, no amount of client requests will result in your concept being gone with the wind.
But what do you think?
Thanks for reading,