Smooth talkers infiltrate design

In your Comment (DW 5 March), “Bombast will never pad out your pitch”, you state that “branding” has taken over as “the catch-all term for most commercial design work”, and assert that it doesn’t matter what words we use if we’re all talking about the same thing.

However, the advent of branding doesn’t just mark a different way of talking about what we do – it also marks a change in the nature of what we do. Graphic designers don’t create visual communications any more – they create and develop brands. The skills of the designer as visual communicator have been diminished. The important thing is to come up with a few bland and slippery words that define a client’s brand.

Interpreting these “values” visually has become a mere production job, constrained by the parameters of the brand guidelines to the prosaic, the generic and the lacklustre. In the brand hierarchy, the visual person plays second fiddle to the clever talker.

These days nobody seems to promote the benefits of “design”, but “brand champions” are two-a-penny. It is as if we have never really been able to reclaim the D-word from the mire it fell into after the Eighties.

Our society has become visually sophisticated, but the people trained to articulate visual languages are turning themselves into the most verbose of business consultants. As a result, the quality of visual interpretation – witnessed by much of the work paraded through the pages of Design Week – is in virtual free-fall. (Appropriately, the “classics” of the Nineties come from people working outside the commercial paradigm.)

The “brand revolution” has turned out to be a successful exercise in opportunism by our industry. But its arguments are specious and sophistic, and as frail as any other big idea in the wake of shifting fashions. By downgrading our real and well-established strengths in favour of seductive rhetoric we’re setting ourselves up for a fall.

Giddy with déj vu, I can’t help wondering why we have learned so little from recent experience.

James Souttar

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