I have the honor of serving on the inaugural board of advisors for Iowa State University’s new department of graphic design. I am joined on this prestigious board by a number of my colleagues where in a day and a half-long meeting, we met and discussed the future of design and its ability to impact business, drive innovation and share information.
Perhaps most notable was that we all felt our success as designers was not due to our proven record of creating beautiful visual solutions for our clients, but to our success at knowing how and where to apply design to achieve a desired result.
Finding a story in the strategy
The visual element is important, but it is always an extension of the message. The message comes from the strategic initiatives giving the message direction and purpose. Because we determine what needs to be said and why, we can craft the very best ways to do so—beautifully.
As we spoke further, we asked one another how we each uncover the message and purpose deep within our client’s strategic goals. The answer: we look for the story. We study our client’s businesses, their market and their customers to find what resonates the loudest and truest. We use that information and our knowledge of human behavior, culture, and marketing to build brands and programs that engage the customers’ attention and encourage them to act.
Great designers have always been expert storytellers. We enthusiastically tell stories with compelling visuals, interesting plots and memorable take-away points. And when we get it just right, we can accomplish all this in a single logo mark.
So what does this mean for design education?
We all wished we could rebuild the program and add courses drawing upon psychology, anthropology and journalism to improve storytelling abilities. We wanted our education to include business, entrepreneurship and marketing training. And we boldly proposed cutting back on technical courses to make room. (Students, if you don’t have a lynda.com account, get one. The on-line training is very good and you’ll build a habit of self-study that you’ll draw upon the rest of your career.)
Great design is invaluable to business success. True, technical skills are critical for implementation and some students will find careers in those arts. But if design as a profession is to remain viable into the next fifty years, degree candidates must learn to flex their muscles in the art of story-finding and storytelling.