Does Design Matter

Someone messaged me a while back on Facebook. We weren’t friends so it went into that weird messenger, limbo folder only to be accidentally discovered weeks after the message was sent. (Even looking back now, it took me a few minutes to find it again.)

The message read:

Hi Jake! James Trickington (made up name for privacy purposes) mentioned your name. I’m in need of a logo for a free running group I’m starting in about a month. I have narrowed it down to two names. Just want something so I can get a FB group started and maybe make a few flyers. Can you help? Trying to get an idea of cost. Being that this is something free im starting up in the community, I’m trying to make it as budget friendly as possible. Thanks!

By the time I saw the message, I figured the person had moved on to find someone else to help out. Regardless, I wasn’t really interested. I wasn’t interested because of two words she included in the message: BUDGET FRIENDLY.

I appreciated her honesty to put that as the closer to her first contact point with me. It tells me she didn’t want to mess around and lead anyone too far into something without knowing if there were major stipulations like budget. I wish all potential clients were like that.

A couple of days passed and I was talking to a colleague of mine. Randomly the job for the running group came up and he filled me in on what happened with that project. The person trying to start the group used Fiverr to create the logo and ended up being pleased with the outcome. As you can imagine, the logo that they created was generic, expected and poorly rendered. Despite all of these indicators, the logo was well received. 

My colleague and I jokingly discussed if there was a point to our profession as designers. We chuckled and went our separate ways. And I have not been able to stop thinking about that question. Does design matter?  

And more importantly and personally, does the design I do matter? I wrestle with this question often. I imagine most people ask themselves if the work they do really matters.

I think that is a decision we have to personally make and cannot be necessarily concerned with what other people think. So, I’m deciding that design matters—because it matters to me.

Saul Bass famously put it:

The fact of the matter is I want everything we do, that I do personally, that our office does to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything or whether the client thinks it’s worth anything or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things even if no one cares.

When the work matters, when it means something, that is when it becomes meaningful to someone else. I follow and admire a lot of designers that deliver consistently good work. And I think it resonates with people because it’s evident that they love what they do. You can feel love was poured into the work.

Library of Congress identity by  Pentagram

Library of Congress identity by Pentagram

Pentagram recently released the rebranding for the Library of Congress. Not to anyone’s surprise, the branding was poorly received. And I can understand that. Looking at it again a week later, it’s still difficult to digest. Something clever and simple replaced by this ever-morphing system. Pentagram seems to put out a lot of work like this. And I don’t mean aesthetically; although it’s arguable the work shares a familiar DNA especially within Paula Scher’s office. What I mean is that Pentagram puts out a lot of work that seems to be divisive. People don’t know how to take it. 

Although they seem to catch a lot of flack for the work they produce, it is always evident that they care about the work. That is how I want to design. Despite if the work is “well-received” by other designers, I want it to be evident that I care about what I’m creating. This is what separates the good designers, the ones we talk about and incessantly criticise, from the bad designers, the ones that don’t care. I hope to be the former.

WritingJake Dugard