Public critiques of identity design: How do they affect our industry?

Identity design presents the opportunity for designers to create the visual representation of a brand. This opportunity comes with a unique challenge: how to achieve a successful design that not only meets the goals of the client, but holds up against public scrutiny. Examples of this can be seen in the recent updates to the logos for Instagram and Google, the evolution of the Starbucks logo and the public outcry against changes to The Gap logo. UnderConsideration's Brand New provides a forum inviting users to critique any and all brand identity designs and re-designs, sparking lively discussions. But what does this public discourse mean for the design industry? 



Paddy Harrington RGD, Frontier

Fidel Pena RGD, Underline Studio

Glenda Rissman RGD, q30 design

Marko Zonta RGD, Zync


Does public critique of design hurt or help the profile of our industry?


"Public critique can be both positive and negative. Talking about graphic design in the public media is a good thing, since graphic design is usually invisible and not taken seriously in the public discourse. It becomes negative when the comments are given without proper context – criticizing graphic design without knowing the brief and the client needs. These types of comments suggests our work is superfluous decoration, rather than the thoughtful communication language design can be." Fidel Pena RGD 


"It’s important to have these conversations in a public forum, but it’s also important for designers to establish a collective reputation as an authority on the subject. Design is a hugely subjective subject that invites amateur commentary. The more informed and better equipped we are to discuss identity design in an intelligent way, the better the chances that the public will come to appreciate and value the input of professional designers. That said, we also have to speak in practical terms that the public can relate to. We should make an effort to engage with the topic of design in ways that matter to those outside our profession." Paddy Harrington RGD


"Critiquing creative solutions is not a new concept. Luckily we are no longer living in a society where there is a Salon de Refusé, but the jury still informally exists. Social media has become a forum for anyone and everyone to be an expert, regardless of their education or focus." Glenda Rissman RGD 


"I think that professional design commentary, positive or negative, helps to educate people about design. It's great to have a wider awareness; it elevates the quality of design." Marko Zonta RGD 


What does the current representation of design in the media say about the industry? 


"In comparison to the recent past, the current representation can be seen as somewhat positive, since the media is at least talking about graphic design. Business schools and popular business writers have brought graphic design to the public’s attention, but their conversations have been, for the most part, superficial and misinformed. We therefore have a public that understands design very superficially and tends to see design only with financially driven purposes. Very few seem to understand the cultural benefits of graphic design for society at large. I wish designers would distance themselves from business conversations and instead portray design as a more holistic profession." Fidel Pena RGD 


"Media coverage of design is getting better, but, like all things, it could improve. The biggest issue is that we just don’t seem to know how to speak like ‘normal’ people and the conversation can devolve into jargon-loaded nonsense. Use of jargon come from wanting to appear more knowledgeable but the result is the opposite; to the non-designer we seem elitist and disconnected. If we want to be engaged citizens who add value to the conversation, we need to learn to speak to issues from the perspective of the average person. That doesn’t mean dumbing it down, but it does mean clear-headed and empathetic discussion." Paddy Harrington RGD


"I am pleased to see much more coverage about all forms of design. It took North America a lot longer to understand the power that design can have on the success of a business. That said, the advent of social media has opened up the conversation to a massive audience. A moderated conversation with experts on branding can get lost in the “noise” of online commentary." Glenda Rissman RGD 


"Today, people are much more astute when it comes to design, so media can spend less time educating people about design basics and instead focus on the challenge and final outcome." Marko Zonta RGD 


What is the responsibility of professional designers when it comes to commenting on work by others in the industry?


"We need a productive critical discourse. The harshest reviews I've ever had were also the most constructive. Every designer should see every critique as a chance to improve their work. Sadly, online commentaries are often thoughtless and just not that smart. The most important thing is to understand the original objectives of the design project. Sometimes what doesn’t look ‘cool’ is actually the perfect response to a design brief. Everything that comes out of contemporary practice should challenge the norm and suggest a new way of seeing the world - but that shouldn’t be the only goal." Paddy Harrington RGD


"We need to be well informed on what the requirements of the brief and the project were. Once we have that information we can give more constructive and objective comments. This will hopefully create more desire within our industry to produce better work and to bring public attention to high quality work -- not just popular work." Fidel Pena RGD 


"I believe that it is acceptable to express your opinion on design work as long as it is delivered constructively and compassionately." Glenda Rissman RGD 


"It's unfortunate that sometimes, especially online, professionalism takes a back seat to personal opinions. It's great to read a different point of view if it's grounded in educated opinions – not personal likes or dislikes. We can all learn from each other." Marko Zonta RGD 


What should professional designers be doing to help foster productive conversation about the industry and the work that is being produced? 


"Write in an empathetic way. Don’t retreat to jargon. Jargon is a way to hide from the fact that there isn’t an idea at play. Work with ideas that are relevant. Push people’s thinking. Get people excited. Solve real problems." Paddy Harrington RGD


"First, we should be producing intelligent, well-crafted work of very high quality. Second, we should be showcasing only high quality work to the general public to educate them on what good design is and what it can achieve socially. And third, we should be explaining our work effectively – how it responds to the clients’ needs and how it helps them communicate their messages." Fidel Pena RGD 


"I think it is helpful to understand the mandate of a design problem before commenting on the solution or outcome. When the mandate is not available, a level of fairness and restraint may be more productive than voicing visceral reactions." Glenda Rissman RGD 


Add your voice to the discussion by posting to RGD's LinkedIn Group, and your comments may appear in a future Insights article. 


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