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More Than Artists?

Amidst the endless 100 lb. paper samples in the latest issue of Communication Arts I managed to find an interesting quote by Clement Mok on the importance (or lack thereof) of Graphic Design in our clients’ businesses. It goes a little something like this:

“The source of our decline is our own failure to create new offerings, to reinvent and reinvigorate our practice. There are now so many tools that enable just about anyone to give visual form to ideas, that our capability of creating form is no longer a differentiator. We have been too lazy to learn the language of business, to understand today’s global economy, and to collaborate with other professions to learn. Clients are justified when they say, �You are an artist. You don’t understand business, how things are done.’ We need to find new ways to offer real value to our clients.”
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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 1381 FILED UNDER Business
PUBLISHED ON Feb.28.2003 BY Armin
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Damien’s comment is:

This has been a common thread of Mok's talks and thinking on design in general. He recently was in Birmingham, giving a talk at an AIGA thing, and spoke with a friend of mine, who also had worked at Studio Archetype, and said he was still trying to improve the position of designers within business.

I think we are all becoming a lot more aware of business, and understanding 'todays' global economy' - I just think that we, as graphic designers, are not aware of the actual tools or language we can use to change the perception of clients and make an impact on business.

If there hadn't been such a rank proliferation of the word 'brand' and term 'brand strategy' - then I would say that those were our tools to add value and make an impact.

Instead it can be considered, business behaviour and we can work as a designer to help a business think and design the way it needs to behave - in look, feel, sound and performance.

I think we might have mentioned something along the lines of this before, in a discussion, but yes - if you choose not to look into or understand your client's business, then you do limit your ability to make an impact to that, and deliver real value. But it takes two to play that game, being the client and yourself.

On Feb.28.2003 at 11:30 AM
felix’s comment is:

Sadly Armin, he is right.

and further into it:

"America is on the brink of self-destructing from (its) own greed. The once apple-pie type celebration of capitolism has soured as a result, and the world waits with a degree increased cynicism for the cleanup of corporate America that seems necessary

if we- as a global community- are to re-engage with the notion that 'greedis good'".

And to your point on the 100lb shame, I think CA does a good job compared to others. This particular issue's contents in my opinion is extremely regressive. Graphis just recently did a piece on Fossil, whose aesthetic was popular 10 years ago when CSA (re)introduced it with far more potency.

On Feb.28.2003 at 11:39 AM
JD’s comment is:

Isn't the lack of substantive content in publications like Communication Arts an embodiment of this very problem?

On Feb.28.2003 at 11:42 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>I think we might have mentioned something along the lines of this before.

Yes, this goes along with some of the things we've talked about. I think he summed it up pretty well.

>Sadly Armin, he is right.

Sadly, I know and I realize it. And like he said, we are the ones at fault here not the clients, as we sometimes might be (conveniently) inclined to think.

>on the 100lb shame, I think CA does a good job compared to others.

I agree. But still, it's kind of annoying.

On Feb.28.2003 at 11:43 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

You're right JD, just look at Graphic Design USA. Sheesh.

On Feb.28.2003 at 12:16 PM
Sam’s comment is:

I don't find much to agree with in Mok's statement. First of all, our ability to give visual form to ideas is the differentiator between us and our clients. In fact--and I don't see how this could be more obvious--"giving visual form to ideas" is the definition of graphic design, in the same way that giving culinary form to ideas is the definition of a chef (I think about food a lot). That's why we are called designers and they are called CEOs, marketing directors, chefs, etc.

The ability to give form may no longer be the differentiator among all the various designers out there (Mok's use of pronouns is so general as to be unclear), but that's neither new nor lamentable. It is what is called reality.

Fundamentally, I'd speculate (and I'm responding only to the excerpt here which may or may not be fair) that Mok is coming from a point of view developed in the early days of the new media economy. Design practice, at least for the web, was being inventing and invigorated ("re" purposely removed), and clients as well as designers needed to be educated about the language of the new business of the internet. Ironically, no one was using the term "artist" back then. I don't think any Studio Archetype or Sapient presentations were met with "You're an artist, what do you know?" I interned at Sapient for 6 months and there were plenty of cool terms used, but not "artist."

Finally (is that a collective sigh of relief? sorry), "the source of our decline"?! Creative or economic decline? If the former, that's a daily battle we fight, I think. If the latter, well--look at the rest of the economy. A sinking tide lowers all boats.

Isn't it more interesting to find old ways of solving new problems than always blathering about new new new? I need a sandwich...

On Feb.28.2003 at 12:27 PM
Sam’s comment is:

oh and another thing...

In agreement with JD's point, I wonder if any other designers are collectively feeling a creative lull out there. I know I am in my own work. There was a moment a while back--call it the Cahan/Tolleson/Sterling moment. Before that of course, there was Mr. Carson. Where are we now? This year's AIGA 365 show is rather bland (with the notable exception of a certain Chicago firm's identity materials, ahem, and maybe a couple pieces).

One way of offering real value to our clients (as Mok says is needed) is neither new nor outdated: do better work.

On Feb.28.2003 at 12:32 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>"giving visual form to ideas" is the definition of graphic design, in the same way that giving

But when the client itself, hell! even Kinko's, can make a decent job of giving visual form to ideas is when we are in deep shit. What else can we offer a client? I don't think saying "well, what you are doing visually is crap and you need to use a serious designer for you business" is valid. Because it's so subjective. And we are more expensive. I do think Mok has a point.

Also. I don't agree much with the artist statement either.

>This year's AIGA 365 show is rather bland (with the notable exception of a certain Chicago firm's identity materials, ahem)

Ha! thanks Sam. I just want to bring a little joy to the world. Is the new annual out yet?

>I wonder if any other designers are collectively feeling a creative lull out there.

Oh! I feel it. There is nothing out there to get excited about. Some of the stuff that sagmeister is doing is consistently good. Firms like Aesthetic Apparatus and Planet Propaganda are the kind of groups that are doing some excellent work. I always admire pentagram stuff, but it's always the same. It was nice to see the resurgence of Art Chantry, he never went away, but there were a few years where he was pretty quiet. In the realms of web design I think second story and the chopping block are doing some interesting work.

But there are no parallels to the excitement that firms like Attik built a few years back. Tomato (hey Graham!) keeps doing good work, but don't seem to have the same hype they used to. Not that that is a bad thing. Cahan's work is always going to be excellent but it's been so imitated that it has become boring.

Another place that I know will always be churning out great, fresh work is Thirst. Which reminds me of Segura Inc. another firm that lost a lot of the steam it built at one point with some fresh, grungy, edgy work.

I feel you brother.

On Feb.28.2003 at 12:59 PM
chris’s comment is:

How true... for the last couple of years I've been trying to read up, debating the merits of adding a business degree to my design skills.

One thing I've always thought, and my friends are tired of hearing, is that it would be a great advantage to make creative decisions based around a business model which you have created, speaking in the language of business rather than "art."

On Feb.28.2003 at 01:04 PM
Sam’s comment is:

>>But when the client itself, hell! even Kinko's, can make a decent job of giving visual form to ideas is when we are in deep shit.

If they want to hire Kinko's, or their cousin, or their neighbor's teenage kid who just got Fireworks, good riddance. These are not the people who will appreciate design or who will be good clients. Good clients are smart busines people who understand value. Value is cost-against-quality. If you can't offer better quality than Kinko's, then you are in deep shit. However subjective quality may or may not be, people respond to it. They do. I seen it happen.

Kinko's, of course, is not the real competiton. It's your actual peers--other firms of similar size, reputation, expense, etc. And that's the game--part salesmanship, part legwork, part brinksmanship. Woohoo, it's a hell of a lot harder and riskier than fixing your trapping, and it should be. maybe Clement Mok is actually bemaoning the fact that instead of selling something new, he has to sell something with merit.

In other news, ain't seen the annual--just went by the show at the NY chapter last week. The date system on the edge of the letterhead is coolio.

Something will come along, creatively. It always does. Hell if I have any idea what it'll be.

On Feb.28.2003 at 02:01 PM
Tom’s comment is:

If what Mok said is true, then we are no longer graphic designers. If a client said to me �You are an artist. You don’t understand business, how things are done.’ then I would say - You are right. And you are not an artist who can communicate visually, so start explaining your business to me so I can help you!

And also I haven't sinced a creative lull cause I haven't had time over the past year to really keep up with all the boring retread design issues. I've been passionately creating on my own new work for clients and myself and my family.

Stop complaining and enjoy the talent and opportunities we've been given.

Whew! stepping off the soap box now... have a great weekend.

On Feb.28.2003 at 02:02 PM
brook’s comment is:

Ah Mr. Chantry, in our own interview...

He is sooo sooo right. Too many 'decorators' and 'emulators.'

"As you can see, computers are a truly mixed bag. It?s thrown the 'industry' into a buyer's market. The client has never had more total control over graphic design. How often does the client take your disk and personally re-work it? That NEVER happened before the computer. Graphic design was respected as a sort of magic that helped people (usually to make money). Now it's a troublesome decoration process that must be applied to stay even. Sad.

"We are almost at a point where we need to redefine the term 'graphic designer' in order to differentiate between what is going on in the industry of design versus the language of design. What I do can just barely be considered 'graphic design' anymore. But I haven't changed, the industry has changed. Strange.

...

"I truly believe that in the very best design the hand and mind of the designer is utterly invisible. By this very standard, the extreme stylism of my work is a contradiction to 'quality' design. However, I chose this path very consciously back in the early 1980's, when I first saw what computers were capable of. I quickly realized that if I continued on a true design path, I would be put out of work by a computer program. I figured that in ten to twenty years there would be only, say, 10% of what I was trained to think of as 'graphic designers' left still practicing. These would be the idea people that everybody else would 'emulate'. This is where I wanted to be positioned. The rest of the pack would be 'graphic technicians' or 'graphic decorators' whose job it would be to make things look nice for businessmen. I was right. It worked."

On Feb.28.2003 at 03:02 PM
graham’s comment is:

probably going to ramble a bit (if i don't accidentally hit the delete button), so apologies in advance if this veers off somewhere . . . 'graphic' designers are, i think, the least proactive/self-motivated of those who could fall under the term 'designer'. think about what fashion designers, or product, interior, architectural etc. designers do/go through to get their work out-prototypes, manufacturing, distribution, sales, exhibitions, shows fairs and on and on again and again . . . whatever 'graphic' designers do, it rarely comes close to the range and depth of necessary actions that these people fill their lives with. 'graphic' design is a cosy, gentle, safe environment for careerists whose concerns touch on whether 'decoration' or 'idea' is better somehow for humanity-come on! too concerned about what others are doing, what others might say or think: worry about your own stuff first, where it's coming from, where it's going, how to get it out or through, how to speak to the people you're working for and communicate a sense of passion for the now, the moment and tradition and the future (all at once!). again (i said it before), each job is potential, pure and simple, and each time one tries to start from scratch, and it's not comfy or sophisticated and it depends on what you yourself think every time. professional 'graphic' design institutions have always been pretty irrelevant, particularly in europe and america, because they are static bodies that rely on the human desire for recognition and acceptance as their fodder, offering as a prize a detached, objective sense of one's own importance as a reward for toeing the line (decoration bad/wit good, style no no/idea hmm how comfy and lovely in a restrained and we can all appreciate together kind of way).

'graphic' designers don't do enough, don't think and get out enough, don't mess up enough and don't display much passion or commitment for what things could be, both for themselves and for their clients (who could be themselves). it's too easy to critique, comment, hold recieved opinion, be 'professional'; much easier than actually making work (by which i mean work like product designers, graphic work, objects, things, subjective little bits and bobs that make you go oooh, a film, a book, a toy), too much preservation and respect for the 'old ways' and not enough 'the eames did it and i will too'. living, that's what it's all about.

:)

On Mar.01.2003 at 04:43 AM
graham’s comment is:

. . . and the creative lull thing: no. check the work of people like ryan mcguinness, futura, alife, faesthetic, ergo, the kubrick, [email protected] and [email protected] thing, vaughn bode, gingham/2k, some of the things supreme are doing-the list is long and lovely. these people are making vital and vibrant work, only (oh the horror) they're not coming out of design instutions or operating within the scope of the desperately leaden design media.

for me, the point of the quote that kicked this subject off wasn't to do with 'understanding business' per se: that should be a given. it's to do with broadening, stretching out, working working working and (oh my god) doing things one might not have done or considered before in ways one might not have done or considered before.

things are moving on even as we speak . . .

On Mar.01.2003 at 09:49 AM
Sam’s comment is:

to your first note, graham, i say a-fucking-men.

just for curiousity's sake, i looked up the others, as ryan mcguinness and alife are the only ones i know:

Ergo

or this

Ergo?

futura

this is pretty sweet too:

futura dragon

fast aesthetic

the kubrick

[email protected]

wise dog never barks:

bawbrick

what the ?! (dude, cool hair!)

vaughn bode

is this right?

gingham 2k

my favorite:

supreme!

Find out how computer users around the world are doing their everyday computer work while simultaneously using their computer to achieve their goals and improve their lives!

supreme web design!

nice kitty!

supreme cats!

another uk supreme site:

supreme dreads, bloodclot!

maybe this is the alife you meant. it's damn great (along john maeda, media lab lines):

alife

(check out HAL and Gozilla, but EoSex is so not sexy)

(here in new york alife is just a hipster sneaker store/art gallery. i mean, it's like, so deck.)

"flatness is god" with quote marks around it gets 8 hits on google. i have to say, mcguinness is like a digital third-generation warhol: technically, anyone can do it; the real art is in the promotion and the getting away with it. more power to him, but still.

wow, that took a while.

On Mar.01.2003 at 12:46 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>to your first note, graham, i say a-fucking-men.

I'll have to agree. It was very well put Graham. Thanks for the reality check.

>they're not coming out of design instutions or operating within the scope of the desperately leaden design media.

You are right, I think that's the problem. And I feel part of that problem, I keep expecting the usual suspects to come up with great work. And I expect it coming from the same venues (AIGA, CA, Print, etc) as I've always done. While there are smaller or less "famous" designers/design firms doing awesome work. The problem is there is no way of knowing it's happening if nobody exposes their work.

>wow, that took a while.

Time to empty the dishwasher now.

On Mar.01.2003 at 04:38 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>The date system on the edge of the letterhead is coolio.

(rubbing foot on floor shyly) Thanks. I don't like bragging about it. It's not like it's expertly done or anything.No sir.

On Mar.01.2003 at 04:43 PM
graham’s comment is:

sam; that's a bucket of mad linkage-nice one, esp. all the supremes(that's a piece of work in itself-made me smile). the supreme i meant is the obvious one, as is the alife (both v.v. deck, sorry ), but the other alife-the one you found-is interesting too. a couple of other peeps to peep-barnstormers (b-stormers.com), tucker nichols and kim hiorthoy. ergo is also known as robert draper, but i haven't searched google under that name.

armin; 'The problem is there is no way of knowing it's happening if nobody exposes their work.'

i think the work is being exposed, just not in the places you mention, of course. galleries, magazines, books, websites-that's where it is, and in a much wider and probably more easily accessible way than in a design mag. and they're getting design work. good work. from good and interesting clients.

btw-can't see any pics of your stuff, armin-any other links?

On Mar.02.2003 at 04:50 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>btw-can't see any pics of your stuff, armin-any other links?

They didn't put up any images. I have this from my portfolio, but it doesn't do it justice. I'm going to try and get some digital pics today. After the laundry gets done.

On Mar.02.2003 at 11:16 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>sam; that's a bucket of mad linkage-nice one

I just finished going through all of them. You are a disturbed young man, aren't you? Nothing like a good cat show though:

On Mar.02.2003 at 03:15 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>btw-can't see any pics of your stuff, armin-any other links?

>>I'm going to try and get some digital pics today. After the laundry gets done.

Damn it, as always I spent far more time at doing this than I needed to. But I've been wanting to take pictures of it for some time now. Keep in mind that I got carried away.

Here are some pictures of our ID system I did.

On Mar.03.2003 at 09:11 AM
Sam’s comment is:

it was either surf the web or read the cheese monkeys or try to find where my files are being saved in os x. i choose the first.

one question though, armin--is that a sticker that wraps around the envelope? do you have to apply it every time?

On Mar.03.2003 at 10:24 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>is that a sticker that wraps around the envelope? do you have to apply it every time?

Yup. It takes all of 25 seconds each time. Not bad compared to the amount of money required to print cool envelopes.

> i choose the first.

It was the right choice.

On Mar.03.2003 at 10:26 AM