Clarity and generosity add up to good design

With the awards season in full swing, now is a good a time to revisit the creativity issue. Boosting creative output is, after all, what prize schemes such as the Design Week Awards are predominantly about, and last week’s D&AD Awards inevitably rekindled the debate.

One of the biggest obstacles in building creativity is the difficulty we have defining what we mean by the term and how to evaluate it. We know it when we see it, and that’s about as far as it goes.

The general view, which I share, is that standards of design could be much higher if only designers had the confidence to break out of the straitjacket they see as being imposed by the brief. Creativity is there, but, as the industry leaders move towards a more intellectual approach, it is more likely to manifest itself as a way of thinking or a process these days than in the visual product.

A couple of new ideas emerged this week. First, there is clarity. What underpins a great design is a clear message. It does the job in a direct way appropriate to the target audience, whether it is a piece of print, a website or a shop, standing out from more cluttered, overdesigned rivals. If you look at the work of D&AD President’s Award winner Bob Gill, it’s the directness of work such as the United Nations lunch invitation that so often gives it its wit.

Second, there’s generosity. Reports from D&AD juries suggest there’s not much generosity among those charged with assessing the work of their peers a sad fact that results in no prizes in some categories and super-refined work taking the honours in others. Such is the way with all awards if judges aren’t kept in check.

But design itself could be more generous, broader in its appeal and taking more account of users’ needs. An extreme case was that of a top architect who designed an office reception with the ashtray in a particular place and was incensed if anyone moved it. But we’ve all visited exhibitions explained in exquisite, but illegible eight point type or been disappointed when the contents of a seductive pack don’t match expectations. There’s not much generosity or honesty there, though the results might merit an award for so-called creativity.

I’ve mentioned before the need for greater innovation in design, whether it breaks new ground or just does the job better. But if you add clarity and generosity to the mix, and sprinkle in top-rate craft skills, you have a recipe for creative design. If you have other ingredients to add, share them with us and let’s try to define what we mean by creativity.

Lynda Relph-Knight

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