Cultivating the Cultured Designer

In our careers as Graphic Designers, in whatever subcategory we find ourselves, we are in a constant struggle with the industry that allows a large amount of amateur activity within its ranks.

Allowing amateurs within the ranks is by no means a bad thing, as we were all amateurs at one point. No one was born a professional, and none of us became a professional by simply creating works for their own sake. Every professional went through trials to gain that status. Trials of college, or experience. If yielded to and learned from, these trials bring us to the level of professionalism.

However, there are many self-proclaimed ‘professionals’ in the industry who have neither experienced trials nor have the basic skills in creating quality or cultured work.

Massimo Vignelli once differentiated what he labeled ‘cultured and refined’ design from ‘garbage’ design. He noted that design can be one or the other, depending on the designer.

How do we become Cultured Designers?

The best place to start is at the basics. A building can only be built as high as the proportional strength of its foundation. The stronger the foundation, the taller the building can be.

There are many designers in the field today who lack the basic understanding of design, and can only mimic styles instead of creating works that stand on their own elements and principles. To the public, there may be little difference between the work of a grounded, cultured designer and works of a copycat. However, to the professional world, the clues are all too obvious.

The foundation needed to become a cultured designer is a basic understanding of the Elements and Principles of Design.

The Elements of Design Are: Line, Shape, Direction, Size, Color, Texture, Value

The Principles of Design are: Balance, Gradation, Repetition, Contrast, Harmony, Dominance, Unity

The rule of thumb is that every element can and must be plugged into any of the principles. Think of the elements as parts of a car, and principles as the rules for putting the car together.

The best and most important way of becoming truly familiar with these is to study Art History. Art History can become your greatest ally in understanding art, culture and design trends.

But simple knowing the elements and principles isn’t enough.

Exploring the Relevance of Art within your culture

To be a cultured designer, it is imperative to know both the history of the relevant culture for which you design, and the possible direction in which the trends are heading. As designer, we are in some ways prophets, seeing the future and guiding a person, company or logo to the future we see.

Many times, designs we create will appear in the future, and it must be understood that any design we currently experience in public was created months or even years ago.The public exists in the past, and designers are in the present, designing for the future. This is why it’s so important to understand the history of trends to guide the future of them.

Develop a personal style, never develop a personal style.

Find the style that you love personally, and make it your own. Never impose that style onto your professional work. Stay fluid professionally in terms of style. Never be known as the person who does (enter style here). Never allow your professional portfolio to reflect only one style or you doom your business.

Why find your own style? Finding your own style gives you a compass or a sense of place within the design community. If you are a minimalist, create as many works as you can in minimalism, but make sure your professional portfolio has more than just minimalist works if you want to be known as a diverse artist. Each designer has a favorite art movement, a favorite artist, etc. However cultured artists are able to create intricate designs even if they are fans of minimalism. Our goal is to become professionals in the design industry, not fans.

Practical tips to becoming a cultured designer:

1. Pay attention to fashion, art and design trends in your culture. Trends in Ireland will not be the same in Canada, America or Germany.

2. Always refresh your knowledge of the Elements and Principles of Design. Make them THE active part of your design process.

3. Always try new things. Stretch yourself with new design trends, new foods, new cultural music. The more you expand yourself, the more agile you’ll be when it comes to future trends of design.

4. Become a fan of Art History. Understand it, write papers on it, converse with others about it. The more you study Art History, the more you will understand you and your culture’s place in History.

5. Never stop drawing. Never stop creating.

6. Bring a notepad with you wherever you go. Draw things around you, write down notes and observations. Become an observant person, taking note of the culture around you.

Becoming a cultured designer is not a goal, but rather a process. While the public may not quickly differentiate between cultured and uncultured design, they can easily tell the difference between a cultured and uncultured designer.

Whether you have been a designer for decades or are just starting out, you can become a cultured designer by expanding your interests and comfort zone to explore new things, new ideas and become a foreteller of the future, designing cultured works for things yet to come.