Zoom Out and See the Bigger Picture

This thought originally appeared on my blog: Thoughts of a Young Designer.

“Design should never say, ‘Look at me.’ It should always say,
‘Look at this.’” — David Craib

I won’t deny I believe the intricate details in a piece of graphic design work can be what takes something from good to truly amazing, and anyone who has ever worked with me would surely speak of my meticulous attention to detail. I am in no way denying the importance of the details in design. But I wonder, in some cases, does our innate desire for perfection make us as designers hone in so much on the finer details that we forget about the bigger picture and what is really important about the work? Do we need to leave our ego’s at the door and see the project as a whole from an aerial view?

“Does our innate desire for perfection make us as designers hone in so much
on the finer details…we forget about the bigger picture…”

I’m sure at some point in every creative’s career this has happened to you. You’re working on a project and you have an idea you believe is absolutely brilliant — so brilliant you can see it clearly in your mind, complete with detail like its colour scheme and typeface choices. You begin working on it and spend hours getting lost in how beautiful this piece of work is. You truly believe you’ve nailed the brief. You show the first round concept to the client, and they don’t like it. You’ve missed the point, they say, It’s just not what we wanted. You leave the meeting feeling deflated and confused because you thought you’d produced something truly beautiful and inspiring.

“Perhaps this meticulous quality-focused view inhibits our ability to fully deliver
on the brief, because we’ve spent too long up close…”

How ‘beautiful’ a piece of work is shouldn’t necessarily always be the goal, and perhaps we get so consumed in the finer details of what we’re working on we begin seeing it in isolation, forgetting to see the bigger picture. The client probably didn’t care about the impeccably kerned typography, but rather were focused on the overall message the work delivered or the problem the work was trying to solve. Perhaps this meticulous quality-focused view inhibits our ability to fully deliver on the brief, because we’ve spent too long up close, and we’ve become too precious concerning ourselves with how aesthetically pleasing the work is.

I’ve seen many examples of this throughout my career — design work which is deemed as ‘beautiful’ but in my opinion has missed the mark because it isn’t functional. For instance, a book which may be fantastic to look at but cannot be read due to a confusing and frustrating layout that ignores the basics like hierarchy and legible text.

I’m not at all suggesting we sacrifice quality. I’m suggesting we change the way we think about our work. Perhaps we need to create like designers, but think like clients. And by think like clients, I mean removing our emotional attachment to the visual and remember we have a problem to solve.

What is the ultimate message the client wants to communicate? Does the work communicate this message clearly? If it does, how and why? If not, what can you change to ensure it does? Is the design flexible and adaptable to multiple platforms and mediums? What is the problem this work was supposed to solve? Does it solve this problem? Is the design too complex? Can you make it simpler while still communicating the essential message? When you view the work, what emotional connection should you be feeling? If you had never seen this piece of work before, would it influence your behaviour?

“…we need to create like designers, but think like clients…
remember[ing] we have a problem to solve.”

These are the things a client will be considering, and probably much more. I’ve previously written about having a conversation with your work, and I believe a good designer will keep these kinds of questions in the back of their mind throughout the entire design process. Perhaps we need to zoom out, even step away from the computer for a minute and look at the work as a whole, evaluating and refining every single design decision to ensure it solves the problem, communicates the desired message and fulfills the requirements of the brief.

I believe details are beautiful, but our job as designers is to solve a problem, and until we can do that, the aesthetic details shouldn’t be taking centre stage.

I’d love to hear how you’ve learnt to see the bigger picture, or if you have any comments to add to this.

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