Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Design Guy, Episode 8, Designer's Attributes Pt. 2

Download Episode 8

Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply.

We're talking about the attributes of the designer. And we began last time by asserting that graphic designers take an interest in the world around them. We said that it's preferable to be a generalist, rather than a specialist. And what we mean to say in this is that it's not a good thing to know your profession to the exclusion of other things. You want to cultivate a curiosity in many things. To that end, you should read widely and expose yourself to new things whenever you can. If you're musical tastes run toward the Smashing Pumpkins, go see an opera. You get the picture. The idea here is that we're supposed to help our clients make a connection with their audience. So, the more informed we are to the world of the client, the more effective we'll be at bridging that gap. In order to do this well, we want to be good at the next attribute. And that's COMMUNICATION.

Robin Landa, in her book Graphic Design Solutions, writes, Graphic designers use words (type), and pictures and other graphic elements (visuals) to communicate. Their art is a visual-verbal expression. The graphic designer mediates between a client with a message to send and the audience. Visuals and words are used by the designer on behalf of the client in order to inform, persuade, or sell." (end of quotation)

And that's a basic definition of graphic design. Visual communication. And as we get deeper into this podcast series we'll tackle all the various elements and principles of design that foster that visual form of communication. So, there's really not much more to say about this right now. To become a better visual communicator, you need to study this craft of graphic design. By learning about contrast or proportion, for example, you communications will improve visually.

Now, although it's obvious, I should point out that this visual communication that we call graphic design is all written and visual. There are no spoken words. But the verbal, spoken form of communication is also a skill that we've got to get better at. It's our verbal skill that will persuade a client to buy into our ideas and to hire us, it's our verbal skill that makes us more skillful at business, that persuade a client to pay us for services rendered. And, of course, the better we can exchange ideas between ourselves as team members on projects, the better our resulting graphic design will be, as we sharpen up our collective vision for the product.

Adrian Shaugnessy in his book, How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, writes, "The way designers present ideas is as important as the ideas themselves. When a good idea is being rejected, it is often the presentation of that idea that is being rejected, and not the idea itself....Spoken communication therefore is a vital component of the modern designer's kitbag. But there is a communication skill even more important than being able to talk convincingly about your work: listening. I'm talking about the acknowledgement that communication is a two-way street, and that your client has a point of view that you need to listen to carefully for clues and unspoken messages." (end of quotation)

Now, if you've been listening to earlier episodes, you'll be experiencing deja vu about now, because we spoke pointedly to the necessity of listening. If you've missed those shows, you can go back and review them, of course.

But I think we'll wrap things up here. And we'll summarize by saying that if the first attribute, which is an interest in the world around us, can be likened to input, then communication (both the visual and verbal kind) is the output. So, we need to recognize that they work together. Garbage in. Garbage out. Or diversified understanding of the world in, rich, layered communications out.

Well, I want to thank you again for listening. If you'd like to check out the show notes, you can find them at my web page, which is Music is by If you've been finding these shows helpful, I'd welcome your feedback in the form of a vote at podcast alley or perhaps a comment at iTunes. Until next time, this is Design Guy, hope you'll join us again.


1. Landa, Robin, Graphic Design Solutions, 2nd Ed., OnWord Press, 2000

2. Shaughnessy, Adrian, How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, Princeton Architectural Press, 2002

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