Design and thinking. Sometimes together.


Branding is thinking made real. Here are some thoughts on design, branding and other miscellany.

My Ailing Hipster


The design community certainly has it's quirks. In fashion it's the move from our black turtlenecks to skinny jeans and chunky glasses. And while I may poke fun while sporting a pair of those very glasses it's inconsequential, after all every profession has their style quirks, from elbow patches to pocket protectors. But the hipster aesthetic brings with it an underlying plague. It's an artisinal, highly curated, scourge upon the profession and the media outlets that cover it. It doesn't have a name, which makes it insidious, so I shall name it The Artisan Sellout.

Just what are the symptoms of The Artisinal Sellout (TAS)? First, it's the disassociation of design from being an obviously corporate function. Any perusal of recent design annuals and of websites dedicated to design will have a strong showing of rock posters, restaurant identities, and the odd book cover. Gone are annual reports of Fortune 500 companies, institutional brochures for the health care industry or catalogs for makers of turbines. If Paul Rand were a designer today we wouldn't know him for the IBM logo, or his work for Westinghouse; we'd think of him as an illustrator of children's books.

A second symptom of TAS is the ever-growing notion of self-generated content, or more specifically the designer is designing things to sell themselves. Some of this is solving the client problem by becoming your own client.

Now, on it's own TAS doesn't seem like anything serious. The symptoms arise from the seemingly innocuous ideas that we should all be our on boss, and that to avoid serving the corporate capitalist machine are good things. And to a degree they are. But corporate design and branding for large scale organizations offer unique problems and are much more difficult to do well than designing for a store that only sells hand crafted, organically raised charcuterie. Small "artisinal" places that sell one thing are easy things to make cool interesting communications for, but big sprawling corporate behemoths are another story. And at this point it's a story that isn't being told.

Glossing over big corporate branding and marginalizing the design work done in the name of it doesn't make it go away, it merely serves to limit the number of people practicing it and in turn make the visual and cultural life of everyone else the worse for it. With out people gaining expertise in this area how do we improve it. How do we improve the communication of municipalities. How do we help large corporations speak to us on a human level and maybe eave behave more humanely as a result without designers and strategists that are skilled in navigating those halls of bureaucracy.

It's not that we shouldn't recognize good and interesting and "cool" work being done for niche clientele. It's that we should extoll the virtue of corporate designers doing great corporate work. Otherwise we'll all be self-employed designers. Which is to say unemployed designers.

Jason LaughlinComment