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The Importance of Using Design for GOOD

The value of graphic design should never be up for debate. It surrounds us and is a valuable part of communicating in a modern world. I guarantee that if you stopped for a few seconds and looked around your office you would see many subtle unobtrusive ways in which graphic design has permeated your workspace. It’s in the layout of the apps on your screen, the logos on your office supplies, the designs on your favourite mug, the colours of your pack of breath mints, and even in the clothes you wear. Products aren’t made on a whim neither. They are carefully illustrated and designed on-screen and paper way before they are ever prototyped. Every part of our modern life is influenced by design be it good, bad, and even ugly. In order to discuss why design should be used for GOOD, we must first talk about the practice of design and its ability to motivate people.

Design skills, much like creativity can be nurtured and developed. I’ve seen students that knew very little of design, become excellent designers through perseverance, desire to learn more, and practice. Another reason I believe design is a unique skill that can be developed is based on the fact that it doesn’t rely solely on artistic merit. Some people would even argue that art and design are separate in their focus and function and should not even be compared. Although the goals of art and design can be similar one would argue that design aims to create pragmatic clarity in the world around you while art focuses on creating a profound emotional response. Furthermore, there’s a fallacy of thought going around that ALL graphic designers can draw (paint, sculpt, photograph etc…) and vice versa. But, I know this is not true. Sure there are a lot of graphic designers that can draw and a lot of traditional illustrators that can design, but these skills are not mutually exclusive. So where am I going with this train of thought…Oh yeah… NOT EVERYONE is a graphic designer. Yet some of the tools that people have at their fingertips can make them think they are. If everyone is using the same tools the same way creativity stagnates and no one is making anything worth paying attention to. It is this recognition that improves the value of professional graphic design.

Graphic design is considered a profession by those that value its power to influence perceptions and change minds. You need to look no further than a political campaign to see how much emphasis is placed on looking the part. Patriotic, confident, trustworthy, readable, legible, simple and in the correct party colours are all characteristics of good political campaign graphics that can help influence opinions and reinforce party values. Some graphics have become synonymous with a specific community or group. For example, just seeing the rainbow flag in a storefront is an indication that the store is LGBT-friendly. Similarly, some colours have become synonymous with specific political parties and to deviate would be confusing to their constituents. Heck, even evil regimes know the power of design in trying to add legitimacy to their twisted causes, commanding attention, and instilling fear of dissent. It is for these reasons that I am careful and deliberate in how I apply my design skills. If you aren’t using your skills for good what’s the alternative?

Of course, every designer has to squeak out a living from their craft. But I don’t think a compromise of values has to occur to make it work. Honesty and authenticity is a mark of good design. Social enterprise is on the rise and more companies are adopting a truer approach to design. Yes, there’s always going to be hyperbole, metaphor, allusion, and humour to help point out comparisons and convey visual messages in relatable terms, however, when the end goal is rooted in truth it can be argued that this is good design. I would also argue that so long as the design doesn’t seek to do harm, but instead brings a smile to our faces or makes us think then it is GOOD.

Imagine if every humanitarian nonprofit organization saw enough funding each year to keep staff and do the best work possible for the communities that they serve. We would likely see poverty decrease, health and well-being improve, education systems get better, greater equality, cleaner environments, sustainable growth, and an improvement on the happiness index. However, this is not the case. In fact, we see many nonprofits struggle to keep going or settle for something less than ideal in order to keep doing the valuable work that is required of them. Of course, there are a number of nonprofit organizations that do overwhelmingly good for themselves, the costs of their marketing and overhead are often quite high, but the amount of money that gets invested into their projects is also high. These high earning nonprofit organizations are often the ones that can afford to run national campaigns and work with an agency of record or support an entire marketing department complete with their own dedicated graphic designer. They’re polished, legit, and make their donors and contributors feel special. They have a name that people have heard of and know. It’s great to help them and contribute to their causes but a small contribution doesn’t go very far. Consistently volunteering will go further, but it isn’t always possible to carve out the time (especially if you’re an independent contractor). This is why I will sometimes offer my skills and expertise on a limited basis to projects of importance for nonprofit organizations. This is why I choose to use my graphic design skills for good. By empowering organizations with fresh design work based on their immediate needs you are able to give them confidence, legitimacy, professionalism, and a visual voice they otherwise would not be able to afford. The hope is that in turn, they will be able to raise the funds necessary to grow their profile, do more for their community, and become successful enough that they can afford to pay for professional services when required.

Design Day for GOOD initiative connecting nonprofit organizations with graphic designers and marketers for one day of free work.

However, there is a set of criteria for nonprofits that I follow in assessing whether or not I will do the work pro bono:

  1. Is the nonprofit organization improving lives? Their cause needs to be something that is for the betterment of people within the community and the organization cannot be seen as discriminatory in any way.
  2. Does the nonprofit organization employ other creatives? The organization can’t have an agency of record or currently work with a graphic designer. If an organization has paid for graphic design in the past or can afford to pay they do not need my help for free.
  3. Are they registered? They must be a registered nonprofit organization or be in the process of becoming one.
  4. Are they a large nonprofit organization? The nonprofit organization must be small. If there is a large number of people on staff or the funds that are raised each year are such that marketing should be within their budget I likely won’t work with them. This may seem harsh, but I want to work with nonprofits that really need my help and avoid being taken advantage of or stealing a job from someone else.

I also have to consider my approach and what gives my services value by asking myself a few questions first:

  1. Do I have the capacity to take on the task? I need to have the means to help and make a difference. I am by no means a social enterprise. I need to make a living with my creative skill set, which is why I need to limit how much work I do for free over the course of a year.
  2. Does the nonprofit organization I want to work with know the value of my services? It is important to place value on the services rendered even if no money changes hands. I try to dedicate $5,000 or more in free services to nonprofit organizations each year. I will usually send an invoice even if the invoice is just a statement of costs with a 100% discount.
  3. Is this something I believe in and will it be FUN? Finally, a pro bono project needs to have a fun factor. If the job is going to allow me to be my most creative, be experimental, add to my portfolio, and allow me to learn more that is often payment enough. The job also has to help do some GOOD for a cause I believe in.

To conclude my ramblings, I have found that it is important to realize the power of design in making positive changes in the community. By helping those in need while following specific criteria we can help to direct focus where it is needed most to make the biggest impact. If we are always seeking to convey messages of truth we can feel good about the work we do. This is the importance of using graphic design for GOOD.

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DESIGN TIPS

Logo Design and the Value of Options

There are a few schools of thought when it comes to providing logo options to clients as a part of the design process. Some would say that it confuses the process and can leave your client doubting your expertise, after all, you’re the expert and they are looking to you for guidance. Others would say that by creating a few carefully crafted options you are showing your creative chops while illustrating how well you’ve listened to their ideas and answers to creative questions.

I’m in the latter school of thought when it comes to logo design….with a few important caveats.

1) Not every stage of the design process requires options.

By providing options in the early stages of the design process you are involving your client in the decision-making process and gleaning more ideas about their preferences that they might not have articulated in the creative brief.

Rebellious Unicorns Production Company Inc. FINAL logo versions

However, once an option has been selected there is no real point in presenting more options unless you’re simply making refinement adjustments to your client’s selection. Presenting more options at this point might frustrate and confuse your client.

2) Make sure your logo options match the creative brief.

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Nothing is worse than having to explain why none of your designs incorporate the client’s set of must-sees. If you can’t back up your creative solutions based on previously agreed-upon terms be prepared for rejection.

However, when each option follows the creative brief and represents a snapshot of possible options you’re showing that you have considered a multitude of viable solutions. When your client has this concise set of options to choose from they feel included and heard.

You can include a rationale that provides evidence to support your choices following the creative brief and allow your client some time to make a decision.

3) Make sure your logo options are recognizably different from a distance.

Qusic logo options
QUSIC logo options
Qusic final logo
QUSIC final logo

Simple colour tints and shades don’t make too much difference in the early stages of logo design. If a set of options are simply subtle permutations of another option pick your choice of one for presentation. The time for details comes last.

4) Don’t include logo options you don’t like.

This sounds like a very stupid thing to say, however, sometimes as designers we get so caught up in creating multiple options to prove our creative worth that we include something we would not have chosen for ourselves. Put a limit on the number of options you will present and stick with it. If an option is not working out ditch it.

You should only present the logo options you would be proud to use yourself. After all, a project done well can always be used for your portfolio. A project you don’t want to be associated with will only haunt you.

NOTE: There is no image for this section. I do my best to delete the option that I don’t like and erase it from my memory. Why would I hang onto my worst work? A question for another post perhaps.

5) Try to leave colour out of it.

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Logo options should be in black and white in the concept phase unless expressly requested otherwise. A good logo should stand out without including pops of colour. By removing colour you are forcing your client to assess the options based on form and function alone. Colours can be polarizing and everyone has their preferences. I’ve seen some great designs tossed to the wayside because the client said they weren’t the right colour.

If you are going to have colour in the early stages try to show what the logo would look like in black and white as well. There will almost always be a time when a single colour black or white logo can be used.

6) Don’t turn your logo options into a pick your combo lunch special.

This tip is difficult to get some clients to comprehend. When we are given options and we don’t see the exact option that resonates with us or we get paralyzed by choice we have a tendency to want to take different elements from various choices and mash them together to make a new option. The conversation then becomes similar to the takeaway combo lunch special where you choose a drink, a main, and then a side dish – the possible combinations seem endless. The result is the soul-crushing Franken-logo that often leaves someone displeased with the outcome. What’s worse is when you’ve devoted your time to creating the logo abomination only to get the same unsatisfied response from the client and you start the process over again.

Too many competing options on a page

One way to avoid this is to be confident in what you present and make sure each option is on a separate page with rank indicators in order according to your favourites. It’s like being the chef that says “no substitutions” and also has a recommendation or special of the day. I always add a tab at the top of the page that indicates my first choice and I always have a rationale to back it up.

TOP CHOICE logo option page.
PLAN Okanagan Second Choice logo
SECOND CHOICE logo option page.

When this approach doesn’t work I still try to keep the Franken-logo away from the villagers by asking what the client likes and dislikes about each logo option with a promise of a new option that takes those thoughts into consideration.

7) Write a concise rationale.

Not everyone thinks or creates in the same way. If they did the world would be boring. However, it is for this reason that you might want to consider your reasons for design choices and how those are based in fact rather than your personal preference. A client has the luxury of choosing based on preference and that is a fact. The designer needs to create based on a combination of facts and preferences on order to develop the best-rationalized outcome.

Let me break it down using a couple of examples:
EXAMPLE 1
FACT: Black and white create the highest contrast possible while colours opposite each other on the colour wheel create the highest contrast colour combos.
PREFERENCE: I like blue.
OUTCOME & RATIONALE: Dark blue on white and Dark blue on bright orange have been used to create the highest possible contrast while using your preference of the colour blue.

EXAMPLE 2
FACT: Bebas Neue Pro is a modern condensed sans serif font family that has been compared to Helvetica but is more affordable.
PREFERENCE: I want a modern font that’s like Helvetica, but I don’t want Helvetica.
OUTCOME & RATIONALE: Bebas Neue Pro was selected because it is modern and readable like Helvetica, but its uniqueness and affordability make it ideal for your new logo.

By stating things clearly in terms that address both fact and preference you are able to provide a rational and pragmatic reason for your design choices that brings validity to your logo design option.

SO WHY EVEN PROVIDE OPTIONS?!?

In the early stages of the logo design process, you are still getting to know your client and better understand their business. You are also in the process of establishing a business relationship. If your client is going to trust your decisions it is important to include them in the creative process. You are the expert, however, you are going to have to prove it.

Logo options help guide the design process and give insights into the mind of your client. You’ll be able to understand their preferences for future design solutions by the choices they make.

By providing logo options you are illustrating the value and importance of your design process. You are also showing your dedication to getting the project completed correctly the first time.

Alternatively, by presenting one logo option you are effectively saying that you know everything about your client and that there could only be one possible solution for them. This is dangerous territory to be in. If you get it wrong your client may think your hubris isn’t worth working with you. You can also expect to have to go through many logo changes and reiterations to make it to the solution. If you get it right kudos, your mindreading skills are on point. JK. This can happen from time to time, however, you can expect you to get it wrong more than you get it right.

Finally, these tips are not rigid rules. As best as I try to follow them and find they work for me there are always exceptions. You may find another way to produce logos for clients that works best for you. The main idea is that options are not a bad thing and by creating options you are giving your creative problem-solving skills a boost while involving your client in the design process.