The business world currently has a great need for designers and creative thinkers. There is a wide range of jobs for graphic designers in modern americas corporate world, from branding, to marketing to environmental design. Business owners consider graphic design to be a vital part of their operation and understand the value of a good designer. They see logos, advertisements and other forms of graphic media incorporated into their business as a communication tool between them and their targeted audience.
Brand identity is the first impression of the business to their audience, and gives them a sense of the business’s intended tone and essence. The designer is in charge of the companies logos, color scheme and use of typography to engineer a graphic image of it’s personality. All businesses have an intended characterization of themselves and their product or service. It is the responsibility of the designer to make that characterization clear to their targeted audience.
One of the most common practices associated with graphic design is advertising and marketing. These ads are made to help guide viewers with their decision making process in choosing one brand over another. The designers work with their clients to strategize the most efficient way of conveying the essence of a product to their targeted demographic. The goal of these tactics is to communicate to the viewer why they need this companies product.
Packaging design can be considered an extension of the products advertisement. However, the designer now needs to also consider the actual storage and assemblage of the package as well as cost and distribution. They consider the environment this product will be in, and try to make this product stand out from the ones next to it on store shelves.
Now, these are all fairly simple, standard ways design is integrated into the corporate world, but there are many other multifaceted ways companies use design, which sounds like a positive thing for designers. Unfortunately, when working with larger businesses, most if not all of these design functions, especially the ones I just mentioned, are fairly disingenuous. The place of designers in the corporate world revolves around their ability to make a believable lie that influences everyday consumers. The majority of their goals are to use design techniques and principles to trick their viewers, utilizing myth and an impractical idealization of their lives to achieve these goals.
The goal of the designer when making a company’s brand identity is to create an unrealistic characterization of how the company would like to be perceived. Businesses hide behind this facade while they continue to focus on their overall profit regardless of how it impacts their customers or workers. The company’s brand is the most palatable, likable version of themselves used to convince their customers that they have their best interest in mind. Walmart’s brand consists of the slogan “Save Money. Live Better” and has a soft blue and yellow color scheme, with a spark logo which they say is meant to “embody the joy of our customers” and is supposed to be “warm witty and fun.”
This is a fairly safe and pleasant characterization walmart tries to portray to the world; a company who is always looking out for its customers and employees. In reality, Walmart is one of the largest and most profitable businesses in the world that constantly cuts costs by making their workers work longer hours with less pay, as well as utilizing prison labor and overseas child sweatshops. There is a clear disconnect between their brand identity and their long history of shady and immoral business decisions. They are using their family friendly, fun and affordable brand identity to distract the viewer from looking into how they are making such huge profits by cutting corners and exploiting their workforce.
Advertising is considered by some designers to be the most sinister and disingenuous forms of design. The goal of the designer is to use Barthes theory of “the myth” to create a fantasy for the viewer to momentarily live in. The viewer projects themselves into this idealized scenario where the product being sold is in direct correlation to happiness and satisfaction. For example, gillette razors advertisements usually revolve around the theme of their slogan “the best a man can get.” It is putting this product up on an unrealistic pedestal making it seem to the viewer that this product is a sign of ultimate masculinity and satisfaction, when in reality Gillette is just pedaling cheap razors and shaving products.
Apple might be the most shameless when it comes to advertising. They will have stunningly beautiful images and graphics in their ads for the newest apple product put to an awe inspiring song but focus on almost no functionality of the product itself. If they do, the function they end up showing is much more insignificant and unexciting as the image or action they pair it with. Some of the ads are just of the iPhone with a blanketed statement about how this product will undoubtedly improve your life.
Package design has a similar effect on its viewer. Designers use different psychological techniques that sway a customers subconscious. They set their product apart from others on store shelves by using bright flashy colors or bold type that immediately jumps out at you. Other techniques involve making a cheap product seem fancy and expensive by using a certain type phases, color schemes and iconography to trick the viewer into thinking it’s more valuable than it is. The goal is to get the viewer to first pick the product over others that, in most cases, are probably just as effective. Their second goal to convince the buyer that they should spend more money on this product than they actually should.
In short, big corporations see the worth of designers, but their values may not necessarily reflect the values of the design world. As designers, we are taught to have an artistic voice and to make sure our work has multiple levels of meaning, depth and ultimately a personal message. Corporations on the other hand, see designers as faceless tools who they can pay to make soulless design in order to increase their profits by swaying, or in many cases, down right lying to their viewers. The more you study and practice design the more you realize how cheap and shallow so much of the design we see everyday really is, the worst part is knowing the public will never be able to tell the difference. Paul Ran once said, “The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.”
Now while this is a fairly cynical view of the dynamic between designers and big businesses, but there isn’t necessarily one party at fault. As designers, we need employment just like everyone else and clearly there is a place for us in the business world. Businesses need to be competitive to make a profit and will use whatever tactics they see necessary to do so, like convincing their viewers that they need a certain product in their life more than they actually do. It is our job as designers to walk that fine line between finding employment to make profit for ourselves, and making sure we maintain the integrity of our work. Many smaller businesses have a more genuine message and legitimate use for designers. There are also larger institutions that focus on current political or environmental issues that have pure intentions and use for their designers. It is possible to be a successful designer without selling your soul to large corporations, you just need to know who you’re working for and what their intentions actually are.
Trifilio, Sal. “The 6 Qualities Employers Seek in a Graphic Designer.” Onward Search, Onward Search, 30 Mar. 2018, https://www.onwardsearch.com/blog/2016/02/top-graphic-designer-qualities/.
May, Tom. “9 Things Employers Are Looking for in Your Portfolio.” Creative Bloq, Creative Bloq, 20 Mar. 2017, https://www.creativebloq.com/features/9-things-employers-are-looking-for-in-your-portfolio.
“7 Tricks Advertisers Use to Make You Spend Money.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/09/10/7-tricks-advertisers-use-to-make-you-spend-money.