Where do you look for job-related inspiration?
Often the inspiration and the answers to a client’s brief already exist in their product, service or environment. I love exploring a brand’s “moment of truth” – the experience that shapes people’s memories and perceptions of the brand. Oftentimes, I find that the ideas and concepts I’m looking for are sitting in plain view, just waiting for someone to spend the time to watch and listen. As designers, we are blessed with an amazing ability to see things in new and fresh ways that are not always apparent to others – it’s the chance to look all around that continues to inspire me every day.
What is the biggest challenge the industry currently faces and what are some suggestions for how this might be addressed?
Many things that once needed a designer to implement, such as creating a brochure or designing a website, can now be done with easy-to-use pre-made templates. “Good design” is now in the hands of pretty much anyone with access to a computer and the Internet, where they can create and produce many of the things that designers once earned their livelihood doing. Technology has removed many of the barriers; a beautifully-designed and executed piece is now only a few clicks away. This in turn has changed many services that designers once did into commodities that are now sold for the lowest price, creating a race to the bottom. So, as a design profession, we need to find ways to create value for clients through offerings that cannot be easily replicated using technology – such as brand visual storytelling or user experience design. The soft skills of designers have never been more in need and it’s up to us as professionals to cast off our connection to the technical focus of the past and see how we can create meaningful, effective expressions that work across a wide range of platforms.
What recent tasks / knowledge / skill sets are part of the designer job description now that did not exist when you first entered the industry?
When I first started, the skills that were most valued in a designer were those of an artist – to draw, paint, sketch and photograph. But when hiring designers today, I am as concerned with skills that would also be asked of a business student – researching, planning, writing and presenting.
What is your favourite work-related book?
I saw him give a talk just before he published his book back in 2003 and it changed the way I thought about how to approach developing brands. His premise was that as an industry, we needed to move away from our focus just on recognition and realize that relevance and resonance are far more important to people. That change of perspective led me to start questioning why people were asking us to create things – wanting to avoid producing material that created no emotional or intellectual impact, just becoming tomorrow’s landfill.
What current or past design trends do you love?
Not so much a trend, but the whole Scandinavian approach to design. Work where form, function and usability work together in a seamless way. Work that doesn’t try to shout, “Look at me; I’m a cool design!” but one that respects and rewards the user of the offering. Currently there are no better examples of this than both the new currency and passport designs in Norway. These are items that impact pretty much everyone in the country and project a distinctive image out into the world – so why is it so often done wrong by so many! When I look back 50 years from now, what would I want to be remembered for? Winning awards for using the coolest typeface in 2015, or for creating something of lasting significance that will endure for generations?
What current or past design trends do you hate?
Trends of any kind! Having worked as a designer for over 25 years, I have seen so many aesthetic, creative and technical trends come and go that I’ve lost count – from line-in-line type to grunge to Po-Mo ironic to retro to hipster to infographics to flat design… they all seem to last about 18 to 24 months before the next cool thing comes along. By chasing design trends as a profession, we look like we are just imitating the latest style to win awards rather than trying to really solve our clients’ challenges.
What are your 'words to live by' when it comes to executing a successful creative project?
“It takes a great team – both client and designer – to do great work.” And when I say team, I mean a team built on trust, respect, understanding and bonding over a common goal. The respect has to flow both ways through the entire relationship. I get so frustrated when I hear designers bad mouth their clients while, in the same breath, wondering why their clients don’t respect them more. When designers become good listeners and observers and are receptive to what their clients are really saying when giving feedback - their creative solutions are always better as a result!
John is the Principal of Projektor Brand Image. For 25 years John has developed brand programs and communications for a wide range of North American organizations – from entrepreneurial start-ups to global leaders. Prior to founding Projektor, John held executive creative leadership positions at a number of Canada’s premier design consultancies including Identica, karacters design group and Ove Brand|Design.