Shared Toolbox

Imagine if everyone in your neighborhood were redecorating their homes. All the interior stuff like furniture, decorations, rugs, shelves, maybe lighting; most of the things you can see around you right now. And imagine every person who lives in your neighborhood is doing the redecorating themselves, but everything available for use comes from the same source — let’s say they’re all getting their materials from IKEA. There is some variation of course to the final home designs, it’s a large IKEA catalog, but almost surely each home will be recognizable as an IKEA design. A personal touch could not possibly be found in any ones home, because everyone’s design comes from one source.

That’s what modern design feels like sometimes. Designers are so heavily dependent on the modern tools of the trade, and we look at the same things from the same places, it’s no wonder the whole neighborhood looks like IKEA, then.

OK, that’s a bit dramatic, I don’t believe all graphic design today looks the same. I don’t even believe all design on Dribbble looks the same. But, the point is there are trends and strong patterns that I believe stem from designers using the same tools and resources and are more dependent on digital skills than analog. As an industry, we’re learning to be robots instead of artists.

This isn’t such a bad thing though, if you believe design is a trade with “problem solving” at its core. Anyone can learn enough of the craft to create a thing original enough that solves all the problems of a given project. Just type that company name out in Gotham (on an Apple, using Adobe Illustrator, selecting a swatch from the PMS book) and you’re good! As if we’re all solving the same problem like we’re replacing a part on the same car; a single toolbox for us all will do because there is a correct and perfect solution.

But, if you believe that originality in graphic design is a problem today, then you must conclude that design lacks artistry — it lacks a personal touch from it’s maker(s).

The imperfection in a line only one hand at one time could make, or the crack in a texture that can only come from that one roll of paint over that one piece of cardboard, and for days we could go on.

Original, personal, details are in the hand-made. When you take the opportunity to do something by hand rather than use the same tools available to everyone else, you will find a little something only you could make. Pile enough of those somethings on top of each other and you will have originality and personality that is unmistakable. The challenge in design is to balance that appropriately, but it’s not so much about style as it is that this thing you made could only be done by you at that specific time. If you’re like me, it’s something that is desired not only in your own work but in the work of others. It’s a thing to be admired not only by designers but by the whole audience.

There is craft to this, we should always pursue expertise and craftsmanship, but when we rely on the same digital tools everyone else has to give it to us, it’s faux craftsmanship. I truly believe if you want to be a better designer, you need to learn how to be a better artist.

brandon moore