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the opinions and musings behind the expertise

Blog Author: Pat Mackey

Corporate Creative Design – This Is Not an Artist’s Workshop

Pat Mackey

Posted: April 18, 2013

Would I hire Picasso to design a bank’s visual assets? Pollack for an oil company? Rubens for an accounting firm?

The cold, hard truth of the matter is no, probably not.

Ignoring the exorbitant fees, prima donna antics, mercurial hours and potentially catastrophic bar bills, these legends of the art world would all lack most if not all the essential characteristics of good corporate creative design: restraint, clarity, balance and continuity.

Corporate creative design is the business of designing for business, not a meal ticket for artistic nirvana. There is a mission to the design exercise, articulated from copious hours of strategic planning and consultation. There is a language, framed by the company’s brand, its mission, its goals, its sector positioning, not to mention the expectations of its target audiences. It is not a matter of compromising artistic principles, but being smart about how those principles are applied. The result may not make Picasso weep with joy and fulfillment, but you won’t need a psychiatrist to interpret what it means either.

For designers, there is a consistent tension in their creative sphere: how much is too much? How do you determine that you are going too far? This is especially troublesome for design professionals just entering the field. Their motivation is to shake up the establishment, scour away what they see as old, or tired, or irrelevant. They have yet to learn the crucial lesson that all designers must learn: it’s not about you, it’s about the client. And the only way to attain that knowledge is through experience: pouring your heart and soul into projects only to learn that you gave the client what you wanted, not what they wanted. I like to call it temperance: a self-imposed restraint, a filter that allows you to step away from the project and judge it dispassionately, through the eyes and expectations of your client and the audiences they wish to communicate with. It is a constructive self-criticism that has served me very well over the years. It can sometimes be brutal, sometimes heartbreaking, but never without merit.

Every designer would like to make their mark in some way and there is nothing wrong with such professional aspirations. It is quite healthy, actually. But it should always be tempered by the understanding that corporate clients are invariably adverse to upsetting the apple cart. They like evolutionary change, not revolutionary change: gradual, measured, steady.

Achieving both goals in executing on a project is true design nirvana. And when it happens, there is no feeling quite like it.