It’s a barrel of laughs when you get it right

Last time I urged graphic designers to inject a bit more wit into their work there was a minor outcry. What a frivolous idea, I was told by a handful of unknowns.

Wasn’t I aware of the tough time everyone was having out there? The key to successful design is surely making money – or at least surviving, they jibed, and what’s funny about that?

Well, yes, I’m very aware that times are hard, and belly laughs weren’t all I had in mind – at least not in every instance. I was thinking more of wit borne of intelligence, designs based on an idea that take an unexpected twist. That’s what separates the graphics greats from the also- rans, regardless of style or period.

I’m not alone in believing we need more wit. A perceptive new book by writer Beryl McAlhone and The Partners founder David Stuart makes exactly that case. Titled A Smile in the Mind, this entertaining tome even carries a foreword by the lateral thinking Edward de Bono telling us that humour is “by far the most important behaviour for the human brain” and “the exact model for creativity”.

De Bono’s thoughts are echoed in examples of gorgeous work you probably wish you’d penned. Obvious classics come from international heroes Raymond Loewy, Shigeo Fukuda, Milton Glaser et al, but there’s a host of newer work too, much of it from the UK. As you thumb through the book you find that even an annual report or sign system can raise an appreciative smirk if you have the nerve to engage hand, heart and eye.

Pundits agree that in these tough, post-recessionary times, your unique selling point as a designer is the way you differ from the pack. Some contend that new technology knowhow or a portfolio of client services is enough. These are valuable tools. But good graphics is about communication and it’s the great idea that makes work memorable. If people don’t remember it, it won’t sell.

McAlhone and Stuart contend that humour is the shortest distance between two people. So make ’em laugh whenever you can. As they conclude, “real wit lasts”.

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