My response to Nick Bell’s article featured in Eye Magazine in 2004. He comments on the universal application of graphic design on a diverse range of ‘practice, areas of expertise and interesting subjects’ and the conflicting contradictions behind its intentions and values.

The adaptability of graphic design is actually a danger to practicing designers. Most designers have a strong style attached to their work, one that is well honed, efficient and malleable to whatever project may come. This saves time in design creation but stylistically does this really capture what the client is asking for? Contrastingly if designers were to produce unique ideas at every instance then the designer is lost without a style, without an identity.

He goes on to discuss the greatest challenge for graphic designers; to articulate a complex proposition as a ‘powerfully simple’ piece of design. This proves more difficult if you factor in people’s perceptions and cultures, that ‘images are open to interpretation’. Knowing this, it sounds near impossible for brands to fix an opinion onto its audience; people do not like opinions to be forced upon (something which Bell raises in his 2006 articles), i.e. the steam roller. Separating graphic designers into two modes of though, for making or for selling, each would have different intentions, applications and tactics in their approaches. The cross overs between the two are becoming more apparent: commercial ambitions are shared by the cultural arts as a means of enterprise, corporate companies see the benefits of a well-informed presentation.

Bell raises many questions on the integrity of corporate design, how brands are increasing promoted without any form of attachment to the actual product/service they offer. He notes how people ‘respond better to the branded message’, that consumers follow suit in what is popular (echoing Cialdini’s article on The Science of Persuasion) and in particular advertisers; one formula that works for one company should work for everyone else. He compares the set up of an art exhibition to the layout of a supermarket, effectively counteracting the graphic design cross over. Is it overkill? Is branding taking over what it is representing? How much of a realistic connection is there between content and advert?

There is also the discussion of narrative, or rather the lack of story telling in graphic design, being more transfixed on the atmosphere the work creates and the speed at which the message is understood. Referring back to “house styles” of a designer, he questions the importance of consistency in design, and particularly when attached to the arts, the uniqueness of its history, culture and sense is becoming generic. Bell raises the approach of ‘cultural identity’ to combat corporate identity and branding practices, ‘how to build identities while telling stories’. Is this simply branding but with narrative? How practical/economical is it to have an art gallery’s identity change per exhibition? If cultural identity is based upon ‘the way you are’, can its design alter throughout history?

To conclude, his disdain for misused communication in graphic design is evident in his example of using branding to combat a global political issue. The problem lies beneath the surface of branding, and the face of corporate identity is increasing distant from the truth. As Bell states, branding should be ‘to design from the inside outwards’, to really capture what an organisation is about, to be ‘inventive’ and not an ‘invention’. Is this due to how graphic designers are educated to approach a brief? Whether the desire to appear contemporary and almost imitate current top designers lies with the student or the educator, graphic designers need to respond honestly and organically to their clients. Each situation is unique, why make each outcome generic.

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