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Should it be beautiful if it works?

I recently had a discussion with a business owner about a design contest. She was kind to offer a collaboration on a design that would touch thousands of products.

We didn’t know about each other so I went on to ask her questions about the designs they’ve used previously. She said they commissioned a few designs from various authors and let their customers decide on the designs they will produce.

Then, she argued that some of the more artistic designs didn’t take off with the target group. However, they produced the stuff anyway because they wanted to have something beautiful. It didn’t sell.

Why doesn’t the beautiful work?

Is good design bad if it doesn’t sell? Is design subjective?

It can be. The question here is how to manage all the moving parts and come up with an outcome we’re proud of not only because it sells.

Subjectivity of beauty is a cheap justification. It’s easy to criticize design, because just like writing, design is everywhere. But the fact that anyone can say ‘I don’t like it’, is what makes space for experience, craft and novelty. It has to meet the purpose and stand against professional and layman critique.

A design contest is a great tool in the research phase of building a strategy. Decisions upon the outcome become a part of the brand strategy. Combined with other decisions we should have a good idea of who we are and what we want to say. The who, what, and why. This is about the story, the substance and the message. This is ground zero. It’s words not pixels.

The question here is how to manage all the moving parts and come up with an outcome that we’re proud of not only because it sells.

A good brand strategy is a full creative brief for a branding studio. And we almost never see it when we go in to design the visual identity.

Usually, we hold on to every straw we can grab to create some sense of meaning and substance. Many times, we’re free to create the story, free to come up with something and sometimes we do.

It never goes according to the plan. In the real world, we must adapt and do the best work. Work that is beautiful, liked, and effective while striving to make something new.

Design is commercial art. Equal emphasis on both commercial and art.

“The antithesis of beauty is not ugliness, it is carelessness.”

Stefan Sagmeister

Design is about connection, emotion, and performance. It doesn’t and shouldn’t go without one or the other. Yes, it’s tough. It’s tough to do work that’s effective, elegant, and successful. But the opposite is worse.

The opposite is lazy.

A professional design is right, looks good, speaks to the consumer and delivers on the purpose. It moves people and creates change.

In the case of my friend, they found designs that work with the customer and sell well. Still, they’re not happy about what they’re making.

She thinks business can’t merge with art.

On the contrary, design is art for business. Not data, not focus groups, not stories or strategy. Those factors are just as essential as visual appeal, technique, and craft.

Making it beautiful doesn’t mean to make it outlandish, something impractical or inexplicable. For us, it means to give deliberate attention to every step of the way, in the right order and in collaboration.

We just must make it beautiful.

Martin Uhnak