The death of graphic design – or failure to engage with clients?

Adrian Shaughnessy says that graphic design is being dictated by commercial pressure and that client-directed intervention means the ‘death of graphic design’ (Private View, DW 2 October).

He cites the design of magazines to demonstrate his point, and I agree with his findings: many magazines are suffering ever-decreasing sales figures, and publishers are desperate ‘to stop the rot’.

Recently, I was invited to ‘stop the rot’ at motorbike title Performance Bikes with a new identity to halt flagging sales and improve shelf-standout. The publisher had probably already used focus groups, but as a graphic designer I decided to do my own research: chatting to bikers picking up their preferred read in a newsagent. I found out who I was designing for and the changes that needed to be made, in addition to considering the client’s own research.

As well as managerial indifference and market research, the great Paul Rand identified designers’ lack of authority or competence as a reason for poor design. Shaughnessy forgets to mention graphic designers work in an age of account handlers and middlemen, who undermine the client-designer relationship, and erode any authority that the graphic designer should have.

My publisher client was reluctant to go with a solution that made sense, but wasn’t trendy and had a mnemonic device. By having a direct relationship, I could explain that the new identity would reconnect the magazine with its readership and that the mnemonic (a rev counter) was key in achieving that. Sales are now increasing month-on-month since the relaunch, in a highly competitive market.

The identity is not likely to win any awards, but it is hardly the ‘bouillabaisse’ that Shaughnessy talks of. Put the graphic designer back in touch with the client and breathe life back into the profession.

James Robinson, Graphic designer, Robinson & Associates, by e-mail

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