Opinion Series: More than Just a Pretty Picture
"Conceptual design and implementation call on different parts of the creative brain."
Judy Dixon, Vice President of Production at Hornall Anderson, describes how design is more than just a pretty picture and how we should cultivate our creative teams to use all aspects of their brains to collaborate and deliver exceptional work.
Steve Jobs was a genius, a great designer as well as an innovator – his influence reached far beyond the tech and design communities. Many of his quotes inspire designers, but one resonates with me most:
“For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”
At Hornall Anderson, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities for proverbial “blue sky thinking.” We’re lucky enough to regularly partner with clients who desire a fresh new look for their brand or product package without concern for limitations or fetters. We love these projects because they’re an invitation for innovation.
However, we know that when it comes time to make concept a reality, the work must evolve—and experienced clients share this understanding. We both realize the risks of ending our partnership before doing the work to take winning ideas all the way through implementation.
That risk is well expressed in another Job’s quote:
“[Design is] not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Unfortunately, it’s tempting to place a lower value on executing a concept than on conceiving it. This perception can mean that implementation is the phase that often gets trimmed in the interest of saving dollars.
What can readily be forgotten in the quest to save money is the fact – to Job’s point – that a great idea can easily be compromised if executed poorly. Too many experienced design professionals have had to learn this lesson the hard way, watching in distress while a disassociated team fails to successfully implement the idea. This often results in a compromised finished product that disappoints the client’s marketing team, and more importantly their consumers, by failing to represent the brand as intended with the approved concept.
Conceptual design and implementation call on different parts of the creative brain. A truly strong design team includes both experts in conceptual design and best-in-class implementation who work together closely at every phase of the project. When a strong design team stays involved beyond concept and through execution, their knowledge guides the ensuing design decisions preserving the integrity of the design throughout implementation and manufacturing.
While it is most efficient for the original design team to see a project through to the end without involving a disassociated team, it is often not practical. This is why we make it a priority to partner with our client’s design and production teams. We have repeatedly achieved strong partnerships with in-house teams by successfully establishing close communication once a concept is approved, and continuing together all the way through implementation and manufacturing. This success is a result of a shared understanding that it is most efficient to work in collaboration while navigating the sea of compromises that arise from the realities of
commercialization. We combine our understanding of the design intent and their understanding of the manufacturing specifications and logistics to enable real-time decisions that preserve the intended brand integrity and achieve amazing results.
Even clients with strong internal creative teams often turn to external design firms when they need fresh ideas. These engagements can vary from brand audits to wholesale launches of a new product or brand. It’s tempting, in such instances, for clients to assume the most efficient, cost-effective way to take advantage of fresh thinking is to hire an outside design firm for a concept and ask them to “deliver” the approved concept (a.k.a. “pretty picture”) with guidelines for their in-house group to use for implementation. An effective guidelines document exists to answer many of the questions raised during implementation. Its purpose is to “guide” a disassociated team through extension without compromising the integrity of the brand. Writing guidelines before implementation leaves too many vital questions unanswered. Doing so is less efficient because the design team must imagine how reality might play out rather than simply document reality.
Seek the opportunity next time your team is creating a new concept to heed Job’s advice and take the extra step to ensure your good night’s sleep by protecting the integrity and quality of the work. Consider advocating for the design firm to take the concept to completion. Ask them to prove out their design through implementation and manufacturing. Don’t weaken a strong design team by separating the two parts. Ask them to design “how it works.” In doing so, I’m confident you will discover it isn’t an added expense, it’s an added value.
About Judy Dixon
Judy Dixon, Vice President of Production at global brand design firm Hornall Anderson, is an ambassador, bridge builder, consultant or whatever you want to call it. She actively collaborates with her client’s production team to find out what their systems and processes are so Hornall Anderson can push the envelope creatively and release flawless design—on schedule. With more than 25 years in print and production management, she has been in the business long enough to have worked with ink on almost every printable substrate. Since joining Hornall Anderson in 2005, Dixon consistently sets the standard with clients such as PepsiCo, HTC, Unilever, Pedigree, T-Mobile, Microsoft, HP, Publix and Starbucks.