Understanding the Why of Graphic Design


“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

After reflecting on the projects of the last few weeks – which have been challenging to say the least – I’m reminded of a principle that while often overlooked, has remained fundamental to my work as a creative, and my life as a whole. I am of the opinion that graphic design at it’s core seeks to solve problems. There is an artistic, aesthetic value to graphic design, but the further the scale tips to that end, the closer it swings to something more akin to art… In it’s purest sense it could be said that graphic design deals primarily with communication and problem-solving (or communicating to solve a problem). But often we – from creatives to clients – lose sight of what that problem actually is.

Ask yourself ‘why’. Why do you need a new logo? Because ‘want’ is not the same as ‘need’ and the differentiator is often ‘why’. Why do you need a new website? Why do you need a brand?

It’s the ‘why’ that determines the quality of the solution, the effectiveness and efficiency of the solution. If a client wants a new logo simply because they just want one, I predict the yardstick by which the process can be measured will be largely subjective. Vague. Nonspecific. “I’ll know it when I see it”. Maybe I’ll find the solution after spending weeks pumping out iteration after iteration, or maybe I won’t. The problem to solve here is to sell in a solution that the client likes. Vagueness is expensive, and takes a lot of time.

But if the ‘why’ is based on something real, something that can be considered and rational, we can better measure the effectiveness of the design process. If the ‘why’ of our figurative new logo is to appeal to a particular demographic, or the ‘why’ is to appear more modern/traditional, corporate/friendly, we have a stronger steer to direct our efforts.

However in the last couple of years I’ve seen many projects, brands and campaigns stall, or implode altogether due for this reason. For clients, the creative process can be a fun and somewhat odd journey of self-exploration, but too much introspection can lead to self-indulgence, and in servicing the needs of the brief, in a rush to deliver a happy client, designers forget the solution has to actually work.

That’s when we arrive at a solution that is loved by the client, but fails to deliver for the business. We must always pay mind to what matters, what really matters. Sure you might like pink, but is pink right for your business?  How can you lead others without understanding your own ‘why’?

This reminds me of the now-iconic Ted Talk by Simon Sinek, “Start with why – how great leaders inspire action”. If you haven’t watched it I highly recommend whether you’re on the side of client or creative, I’ll leave you to discover why.

– Greg Bunbury

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