I believe graphic design should be based on ideas. There should be wit that comes through any piece of design. Good designers are hired to create things others cannot, and it’s up to the designer to distill something from the project into visual form that makes a connection with people. Ideally, there should be a “smile in the mind”.
“Design is thinking made visual.” — Saul Bass
I feel a problem solving approach to graphic design often leads to a lack of expression and instead focuses on styling. I believe this is where much of modern graphic design lives. Somewhere along the way, designers got caught up in “great texture!” and “cool style!”. The industry standard approach to creation became solving a problem instead of expressing an idea and it’s lead to forgettable, boring, quickly dated results. I believe without idea, expression, or wit, graphic design fails to be communication and becomes decoration.
“Art based on ideas is more interesting than art based on technique.” — Art & Fear
One way to express ideas in design is to start with words that describe what you’re designing for, then make a connection between 2 of them and create visuals that support it. Olly Moss’s work is almost always based on the blending of 2 related ideas — referencing the Lawrence Of Arabia poster below, it’s the main character’s headscarf + sand dunes, two images pulled from the movie.
Lawrence Of Arabia, by Olly Moss
However, much of Banksy’s work goes the other direction, blending 2 unrelated ideas to form a new way of thinking about one of them. His take on child slavery might make you think a little differently about the phrase “I hate mondays”.
With this approach to design, there is always an idea to support the art. It’s more than decoration and makes you want to take it all in and imagine how the artist came to this conclusion, or how they were able to craft the piece.
All graphic design is communication, but much of that is only informative. A menu at a restaurant might not need a clever concept, but just needs to be read quickly and clearly. Within that though, you have the ability to express something with your chosen design elements. The color, typefaces, or materials will all combine to create a certain feeling. The idea then might be to make the menu feel luxurious; or cheap. This is when you are expressing ideas through the senses. . . an article for another time.