The State of Graphic Design

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November 11, 2019

State of Graphic Design

How creatives see the landscape shaping

By Alyssa Ruane

Modern times call for new approaches to decades-old practices. Anyone in the marketing landscape today realizes this-with AR and VR disrupting reality and consumers’ tastes shifting with a single tweet-the brand playing field has never been more robust, crowded or exciting.

As a full-circle brand experience becomes more and more crucial for customer loyalty, creatives are being challenged to provide more solution-oriented work that can encompass much more than their core competencies. Because branding requires consistency and purpose, design practitioners are being trusted to transform ideals into not only visuals, but integral brand experiences that resonate long after the first touchpoint.

For an inside look at today’s graphic design landscape, we sat down with three experts across the country. Our panel included Loryn O’Donnell, brand strategist and president of DFW’s AIGA, the professional association for design and adjunct professor of design at University of Texas at Arlington; Bob Faust, principal and design director, Faust; and Oen Michael Hammonds, design principal, Employee Experience Design at IBM.

Give us a snapshot of today’s graphic landscape.

Oen Michael Hammonds: Today’s design landscape is broader and deeper than it has ever been before. Broader in the sense that we can no longer think of the graphic designer as only a visual designer. Designers entering the discipline can now look at the design practice from a multitude of dimensions from visual, digital, environmental, service, and more. In a more in-depth perspective, designers need to go deeper into not only their core skills but also understanding the secondary skills needed to stay relevant in this continuously changing industry.

Loryn O’Donnell: Designers are continually stepping away from traditional, rigid brand standards and into this exciting, new arena where identity systems are flexible, even interactive. And as technology advances the presence of AR and VR in our lives, we’ll see more designers transitioning identity systems to be adaptable in new ways that are appropriately engaging within these spaces as well.

Bob Faust: While graphic design is still an amazing way to make a living, the expertise level of practitioners being hired has greatly expanded from those with reasonable learn-on-the-fly software skills to strategic, multidisciplinary firms with decades of proven experience.

It used to be potential clients would interview firms that could be compared pretty much apples-to-apples. But I have been in many situations where I can’t identify what determined the finalist list. I believe there is a good chunk of the work out there that once was considered critical communication that is now considered more like a commodity.

For these projects, a lesser skillset seems warranted. And then there is the other chunk of work: a more specific, bespoke and challenging type of work-one that may start with branding, but cross over to packaging, environment, social media and product itself. For these projects, clients are looking for the artist/designer. This newer role and less categorized one is now extremely important and much more visible.

Why does good design still matter?

Faust: Good design is the way art gets into everyone’s every day. And art is the energy that makes life magical.

Hammonds: Thomas J. Watson once said, “Good design is good business.” Design matters-even more today, because as practitioners, we now have a seat at the business table. More importantly, we have metrics that we can speak to that matter to business leaders.

According to Forrester, good design has shown to have a 300% increase return on investment. Also, good design is not limited to the look and feel of the object. Consumers are also expecting the usability of the experience to be useful and personalized.

O’Donnell: Why? Today, we can do almost anything with minimal effort on our cell phones. When you encounter a high effort digital activity, that’s bad design. And poor design makes you dramatically less likely to use a particular app/website again. It has forever been true that people choose to do business with companies that provide easy and positive experiences, but tech has transitioned the bulk of the “experience” issue away from customer service teams; it’s a question of good design.

What are your clients looking for today?

O’Donnell: Even at the small business level, I’m seeing clients ask for design work that solves a problem. Less people seem to seek designers simply because they want to look good, and are finally understanding that beautiful yet meaningless creative work does not accomplish their goals. Having studied philosophy prior to graphic design, I have found ways to design with purpose for each client since day one, and I’m so energized to see local restaurants seeking out a complete brand strategy instead of a logo design.

How are brands creating more intimate engagements through design?

Faust: The idea of branding as critically systematic is breaking down. And the idea of simply connecting an idea to a brand’s essence, however that needs to happen, is gaining momentum.

Hammonds: Personalization and service have been significant in how brands have tapped into consumers to ensure brand loyalty. Big data has allowed companies to offer everything from knowing body measurements to offer up personalized clothing suggestions to knowing when a family typically gets home to set the thermostat ahead of their arrival. Good designers know how to use this data to make the experience feel welcoming and non-intrusive.

O’Donnell: One way to create more intimate engagements as a brand is to identify the touchpoints, the exact moments, when people are most closely connected with a brand, and find ways to highlight their experience during that instant.

What design trends are you seeing out there that are sparking more connections with consumers?

Faust: Environment as an opportunity to make an associated imprint.

Hammonds: Consumers are asking for much more straightforward but engaging experiences, “Tell me what I need to know, and tell me how to get it.” Over-thought designs can get in the way of creating useful, meaningful experiences.

O’Donnell: Humans have a bit of an inclination to dislike that which looks old, and it is true more and more each day that old things are irrelevant. So to an extent, visual design trends must continuously change to meet the market for things that look new and fresh. This is why adaptive branding is on the rise-there is no single design trend I could offer now that I have reason to believe would still spark a solid connection with consumers in five years.

Why is print still a viable option in these engagements?

O’Donnell: With way less opportunities for brands to engage people in the physical world, product packaging design is sort of seeing an elevated place. Brands are saying, “Alright, our first physical introduction really happens when you check the mail.”

Faust: Because you can touch it. It makes the experience human. You remember the room you read it in. The way it felt. How you had to fold the page back and adjust yourself in your chair to read it. All those things make a memory stick.

Hammonds: With all the different channels and mediums for a designer to choose from, print needs to be a strategic option to engage consumers, not the only option. Also, we must remember that not everyone has access to digital mediums. Printed materials are one of the only mediums that allows everyone to have access.

This article appears in the new November/December 2019 issue of Connect magazine published by NextPage, which can be found online here. If you would like a free print subscription to Connect, please click here.

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