Artist problem solvers
Is graphic design primarily an artistic or business activity? On one side, graphic designers help businesses solve communication problems. On the other, graphic designers self-initiate design and view design outside of business contexts therefore bestowing it with inherent value. These distinct catalysts for design (problem solving vs. creating something personally interesting) reveal a multi-layered profession operating with similar tools and visual tropes but motivated by very different reasons. Many designers define themselves primarily as problem-solvers, which makes their collaboration with business a natural fit. Businesses provide problems (our website confuses people) and designers offer solutions (structure your site better). Many designers, however, define themselves as artists which often entails squeezing personal creative desires into projects or suppressing them altogether to appear after-hours in their personal projects. Graphic design solutions that simply “work” are unfulfilling to the artistically inclined designer. While difficult to reconcile, graphic design as a profession needs both design modes at play in order to maintain equilibrium. Problem solvers need artists to form new visual languages and styles and break new ground. Artists need problem solvers to teach them how to make useful work, how to work for real people, and how to be on-budget. Lose one or the other mode and you’re just making art, or your just doing business, and I’ve never met a graphic designer who was interested in graphic design purely for its business utility.
Could it then be said that graphic design is sustained by those who find both the prospect of a pure art practice emotionally and financially unsustainable and the bareness of pure business aesthetically unsatisfying? Perhaps it’s in the middle of these extremes that artists and problem solvers find common ground under the heading of “graphic design”. The artist problem solver can indulge the mystical non-linear while putting these insights to use for people. The artist problem solver can know which rules to break and then convince the client that it’s okay to break rules. The artist problem solver can commit to discovering and fighting for what a design ought to be within a particular social or economic context regardless of its immediately apparent business value. Ultimately, business would most likely improve if designers stuck to their guns and produced work that aligned with their tastes and convictions. At least, the world would be a little more interesting and designers would be a little happier.