By Jim Sutherland

The designs that have had an impact on me are very different projects, but the common element among them is a sense of wit, playfulness and thoughtfulness. Classics such as FedEx, V&A, Pirelli slippers, i-D magazine covers, the Mexican 1968 Summer Olympics, Tate, Shelter, the Tusk Conservation Awards and MIT Media Lab all give a sense that the designer has gone beyond the conventional answer to find something extra.

They’ve injected joy into the work, and the viewer gets some of that joy at the other end, even years later. They’ve all had an impact on me, on the world of design, and on the wider world. Otherwise why would so many still be around? For me, that’s what it means to truly make an impact.

When it comes to executing that in your own work, there’s never an easy answer – but there are plenty of questions. These are the questions I ask myself in my own work, and when judging others’ for awards.

Does it work?

i-D magazine’s cheeky ‘winking face’ logo

This is the big one. I love judging work. It’s like being back at college with that terrifying tutor, except the terrifying tutor is now the voice inside my head.

We do it every day in the studio. Every idea goes on the wall and we interrogate it. Pull it apart, question it and tease out its merits and faults. Could it work better? Is there something worth developing? Sometimes it feels like the work is questioning you. It sits there asking: ‘Am I good enough?’

Does it really work?

FedEx, by Landor Associates, complete with ‘hidden’ arrow

It’s easy to deceive yourself. You have an idea you love, but a small voice (maybe that tutor again) says there’s a problem. You try to ignore it, talk yourself round – you can be so persuasive – but the voice insists.

And you have to listen. It’s what pushes you to do better work. When you get there, it’s worth it. The joy you feel at that moment is the joy I want to feel when I see the piece of work. Great work isn’t fragile, it’s robust, and it can handle any amount of interrogation. The more you look for potential weakness, the more you find strength.

Does it cut through?

An application of johnson banks’ Shelter logo, which subtly turns the ‘h’ into a house

Visual clutter has a numbing effect – we’re assaulted by it every day, and we develop an immunity to it. Creative work needs to cut through. That takes wit. Work needs to engage the mind as well as the eye.

I ask myself: Does it move me? Does it make me think? Is it meaningful? Is it joyful?

Is it beautifully done?

Alan Fletcher’s iconic V&A marque bears testament to the power of reduction

The craft of a piece of work is always as important as the idea. Has it been done beautifully? Is it executed with care and attention? Does it …read more

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