02 March 2012

The Role of the Designer

Finally, finally, I have found an hour to write this long-over-due post. Please accept my genuine apologies for such lateness, but I have been overwhelmed with to-do lists for the last couple of weeks, that have prevented these quiet moments of reflection.

My last design post discussed brands, and what they really are - how they really work. I - hopefully successfully - displayed how each and every one of us has encountered a brand experience, and just how powerful they really are. It led me to think about this week's topic, about the role of the designer. 
So many of my posts inspire the next, so it felt like a natural progression into a topic that is more than close to home for me.

Design is a very powerful form of communication, and I take my role very seriously. It is not unheard of to have clients ask for a carbon copy of an existing brand, which is not their own - clients who think it is okay to rip-off other brands, and perhaps piggy-back off their success. There is a big difference between being influenced by a designers work, and just plain ripping it off. There has been a lot of these kinds of people floating around lately, stealing artists' creations and so forth, and so I think it is important to highlight that we meet them too - except we as designers are in a position to stop them. We must be responsible.

As I discussed in my post Brands - Who Needs Them? a successful brand must be true to the person behind it - it must be built on their morals, ethics and skills to communicate truthfully and honestly - and this of course goes for designers' own brands as well as their clients'.

Leaff for instance, is built on trust - to be a transparent, honest and trustworthy company. Leaff is as natural and organic as our lifestyle - it loves nature, tradition, and the environment; it is made up entirely of our morals. Last week I came across a company that was looking for a designer, and I pursued with interest. They looked like a really great little establishment where great work could be done, but after scanning their website, I found out that they sold fur products, and I instantly walked away. I am possibly the worlds largest animal lover, and there is no amount of design potential or money that could have made me want to consider it - it was a straight up no - because I am Leaff and Leaff is me. We are not separate with different points of view. It shouldn't be a choice between standing by your brand or standing by your own beliefs - they should be one and the same.

A good example of a designer not taking responsibility is a big story that hit the headlines a number of years ago now. A company was claiming to be hosting a 'winter wonderland' - I expect a lot of you will remember the fiasco as it made big news back in 2008. The promotional material promised things such as real reindeer and an enchanting nativity, yet expectant parents and excited children turned up to discover such sites as plastic reindeer and a painted backdrop of a nativity scene, in a drab muddy field. Needless to say, none of what was advertised was actually anything close to what was provided at the event and it caused unimaginable upset to the public. The man behind the organisation was already known to the police, and I have no doubt that anyone who met him would have sensed that he was trouble.

Now, his material may have been designed by himself - there was no naming of any input from a professional designer. However, I do know of a number of designers and companies who do not take responsibility for situations like this, and thus they are in my mind, an active participant of this immoral behaviour. Designers who have encouraged clients to display fake reviews and testimonials on their materials, to gain quick trust with their audience. To use stock images in place of their own - to make their work or premises look better than it is. This is not true to the client, and it is actively lying to the public - it is immoral and wrong - not to mention the fact that it is going against everything that a brand should be. Furthermore, I have no doubt that these designers are in a sense using the client - after all, 
a client who looks big and special in the designer's portfolio, will always boost their own reputation.

These designers' egos can be big and ugly, and they effectively quash the creative process in favour of 
a process that is cold and money driven. Any small projects are forcibly rejected with high fees and big projects are rushed out with little care or attention spent on them, in pursuit of faster payment. There is no room for creativity or any real design when the designer becomes driven by money like this, and again, no responsibility is taken for their roles in the projects.

I fear where the creative industry is going when I think of designers like this. It does not instil trust, and 
it gives design a bad reputation. I don't doubt that when the going gets tough, it changes the way that people do business and the way that they look at their own; when your back is against the wall and you have a family to feed, money has to play a part. But, I think how far you are willing to go to stretch your beliefs and morals is a big question.

Next time I will be looking at the culture of the 'one size fits all' - hubs for the pre-designed and 
pre-created - open 24 hours a day for off the peg purchase; why they exist, and what they do.


  1. Great post Kate. So glad to be working with you. The fur thing is something I also could not have got involved in. I'm a vegan myself and it is part of my values. As I am my product as a Virtual Assistant I could not get involved in certain businesses. It's part of building a brand :)

  2. Thank you for your lovely comment Jess - I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it! Yes it is indeed, and I'm really pleased to see that you value your brand as much as this. I really appreciate you taking the time to leave your thoughts, which I think will be valuable to others too.


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