“Side hustles” can help stop the “homogenisation of design” – Daljit Singh

The designer took to the stage at Design Manchester’s DM19 conference to warn against the “sans serification” of digital design and to champion the side hustle.

“When it was first adopted, digital design gave way to huge creativity in the industry, we were able to do incredible, beautiful pieces of work,” recalled Anna Money chief designer Daljit Singh onstage at Design Manchester’s DM19 conference. “But in a digital world where you expect things to be really experimental and beautiful…we now live in a world where things are incredibly flat.”

The “homogenisation of design”, as Singh puts it, has been well-reported of tech companies the world over. But beyond the likes of Uber, Google and Apple, he says even some of the world’s most design-led companies have fallen victim to “sans serification”. And the result, Singh says, is an industry that often prizes “normality” over creativity.

Some of the many brands Singh believes have fallen victim to the trend.

Having your own arsenal of ideas

But how do designers fight against the wishes of clients, when so many are asking for the same thing? For Singh, it’s all about designers’ side projects.

Singh now works for Anna Money, a challenger bank for the creative industries. But in the early days of his career, he founded digital design agency Digit, regarded as one of the first studios of its kind. “Digit was all about personal passion projects,” he says, “for us, experimentation was what it was all about.”

And by doing so, he says, the team were able to net the big clients they did. Speaking to Design Week after his talk, he added: “Sometimes pushing the boundaries isn’t possible, because things are set in stone and you need to get the job done.

“But at its heart, design must be something creative and having your own arsenal of ideas that you’ve developed yourself is an incredibly useful way to show clients there are other possibilities beyond ‘normality’.”

Scratching a creative itch

But side projects don’t just exist as an outlet for creativity, according to Singh. They also work to bolster the confidence of designers and their understanding of the industry.

“Designers can sometimes be really ill-equipped to apply their design in a particular way, because they have little understanding of the reality of what a business is trying to do,” he says.

Singh points to his own experience in launching a range of sausages, Mr Singh’s Bangra Sausages: “You can learn a lot from doing something outside of your comfort zone.”

While it may not have been a successful venture in the long-run, “doing it for himself” allowed it him to experience the needs and requirements of the commercial side of the industry was invaluable, he says. He urges designers, therefore, to “be brave” in their side projects, since lessons can be applied across disciplines and ventures.

Sometimes, its not about the success of a passion project, more just the fact an “itch is being scratched” – especially when you aren’t getting it from clients. “We all need a bit on the side sometimes,” he says.

Branding for Mr Singh’s Bangra Sausages
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  • platelikkr November 28, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    There’s a headline to another story, below this side hustle story, that goes something like this, “Will variable fonts be the next design trend?” Truly an ironic aside to this very poignant dive into the “sanserification” of design. The truth is, at least with respect to designing for the web, we’d all be so much better served—especially our clients—if the new trend for designers is to dedicate our resources to better understanding the business objectives and brand strategies, inherent in the designs we’re producing for them. Design trends, so to speak, have really been the greatest misdirection in the web design arena, from the outset. It seemed everyone thought business and ecommerce sites, where most of the paying clients came from, were supposed to push the experimental envelope, instead of meeting the objective purpose of engaging more users and converting them to buyers, and loyal consumers.

    So many micro trends have come and gone in web design—tiny text (and tiny UI), the bells, whistles and overt visual feedback UI, the “let’s force the web to be linear, let’s do video,” the minimalist, and of course everyone remembers good ol’ Web2.0, right?

    I remember my first job at a boutique design agency, I was there to learn, absorb and acquire topline production skills, a critical resumé item. After 6 mos on the job, I noticed the CD seemed to approach each project—especially brand identity development—with the same approach, and just a subtle variation to what I later realized was a style he was intent on using to establish for his own career trajectory. The epitome of trendy. If you’ve ever seen Margo Chases work, you’ll understand my point.

    This, of course, isn’t an example of web design trend, but how design trends often find their way into all categories of design, probably most prevalent in the fashion and interior design arena. However, the difference is these design categories aren’t purposeful in terms of solving business problems on behalf of a brand.

    I learned my most important lessons from that agency’s CD—and I’m lucky to say they weren’t actually design or production lessons. No, they were lessons about how you cannot really serve your client properly by giving them purely subjective solutions, paying no attention to the business landscape, competitors, or dynamics of the category in which they wish to flourish. Otherwise, you’re simply satisfying your ego, and shouldn’t be in the commercial arena of art. You should be a fine artist.

    There shouldn’t be “trends,” per se, in design, short of delivering spot-on solutions that serve a company’s brand strategy, with design that becomes an logical and evolutionary extension of their strategic DNA. That should be the trend.

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