It Doesn’t Mean We Should

Years ago, this piece of wisdom was imparted to us by the late Jeff Pollard, a graphic designer whose work we admired tremendously:

Good graphic design is effective packaging. It packages a message to make it as engaging, accessible, consumable, and persuasive as possible. Everything else is just art.

We love all of the implications of that.

Like What?

Those two sentences are like an onion that just keeps peeling itself. Every time you look at it, there’s a new layer revealed, a new meaning apparent, a new significance to take to heart. Here are a few of them:

  1. Design doesn’t exist for itself. It exists to serve the message.
  2. Good design serves the message by making the message more apparent than the design.
  3. Any design that doesn’t package effectively isn’t design, it’s just art. We love the implication that something as exalted art isn’t enough or appropriate or effective if it’s created for its own sake or to satisfy the selfish motives or misbegotten efforts of its creator.
  4. Good designers manage their egos effectively enough to live with #2 and #3.
  5. Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should.

Joe Namath once wrote a book called, I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow: ‘Cause I Get Better-looking Every Day. We feel the same way about Jeff’s advice: We can’t wait until tomorrow because we find something new in it every day.

Life Imitates Design

As human beings, the number of things we can do is almost incalculable: We can jump out of airplanes without parachutes. We can gargle with razor blades. We can go skinny dipping in piraña-infested rivers. We can stick our faces in wood chippers. We can eat those little silica gel packets used for product packaging. We can dive off of skyscrapers into wet sponges. We can juggle chain saws and machetes blindfolded. We can have our mothers-in-law visit for the holidays — inviting them to arrive for New Year’s Eve and stay till Christmas. We can even attempt to prove the world is flat by launching ourselves into space in homemade rockets.

But just because we can do all those things — like putting die cuts in sell sheets — it doesn’t mean we should.

Even if we call all that crazy stuff performance art, if it doesn’t have a constructive creative purpose, it’s just art.

Thank you, Jeff.

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