Design Friction: How Design can defend?
We all like to think that design is smooth and curvy, creative and smart, enjoyable and easy, but we are largely wrong. Design has its own pitfalls and has to undergo many challenges before it is called DESIGNED. In some fields Design has earned its honours by virtue of the necessity. In others it has gained honours by defeating all odds in its process of creation and existence. Design has managed to earn itself a title of polished and sophisticated in many fields. Fashion is one of them. Design also has its impression in engineering and technology. Lamborghini & Apple are some of them. Design in architecture and education have already proven their status. You think of an industry and you will find Design presence. Those who have not yet embraced Design will do so in a short span of time.
But it is not all so easy for Design, Designers or Design People. They have to face a lot of friction before Design becomes what people admire, acknowledge and accommodate. Whether it is Business Design or Consumer Design, Social Design or Institutional Design, at every stage Design has to go through a lot of friction.
In this article I will focus on my area of design (i.e. branding design - packaging) and what that friction is. Do these frictions create “Heat of the Moment” or easily cool down in the process and freeze into the avatar?
Packaging design has often raised eyebrows (if it has to start somewhere). I have met a lot of responsible people who consider packaging design as a tool to make products available at a point where it can be paid for, for all the hard work. Even in this era there are consumer product marketers who have such a view on packaging design. And if you ever get a chance to work with them you will realize what friction I am referring to.
Many marketers often rely on sales force for Design management issues, packaging design solutions and CHANGE, when the sales team is for selling, availability, coverage and promotions (more technical). Often the views expressed by the front line on matters of design are disaster. They don’t understand what the basis of Design is, why certain colours, fonts, nomenclature, packaging structure etc have been created and more importantly how (inspiration) they have been created. For them the package is a token, on which they get targets & push it to achieve targets. Their remarks sometimes sound like jokes. While I myself do not advise isolation of the key sales people, super senior sales managers from discussions and decision making or eliciting views, but I recommend that it should be taken as an input and not judgement / directive. Decisions on Design are difficult to take and no one likes to be in shooting range (risk averse). Packaging Design is in many parts driven by culture, semiotics, demographics and psychographics which are used to bring out the essence, personality & imagery, which is not an area of concern for the sales team. For them culture is the language in which they interact with the retailer/shopkeeper. And any of the latter is “I don’t need to know”.
While this was easy on identifying the heat of the moment, there are other very practical issues which keep the heat on, more than any other. I have over the years realized some of these and would like to share the same here.
F1 What I want Vs What We want Vs What Customers want – I have come across instances where the team managing the brand is not sure what the objective of the brand design is, half way through the project. While it always starts with what the customer wants, captured as a crisp brief, but gradually it becomes a tussle between two states of mind (The executive and the boss - hierarchy). Many times we have received feedback that is like ‘my boss wants it this way but I think it should be this way. What do you think’? Such kind of feedback is like a poison which kills slowly, slowly. It has the potential to burn down everything that ever started with good spirit and motive. I have seen many Design People face this challenge every now and then. The only way to avoid this is to stick to the brief that was formulated, ask questions before putting pencil to paper, define the parameters of evaluation and devise a holistic feedback process.
F2 Incomplete or half sure – There are many managers who are ‘Not Sure’ most of the time. If you ask them how they feel, they will say “Not sure”. They make it worse by adding ‘What if...’. Many times it also happens that new things come up in the middle of the design processes which were not part of brief. These so called “New” create a lot of problems & have the potential to destroy the essence of the Design and create more irregularities than imagined. Not being able to make up the mind is a weakness amongst many managers. This can be attributed to personality or behavioural issues. Such people should learn how to plan, organize, execute projects professionally for the benefit of the objective at hand and avoid interim hiccups caused by indecisiveness.
F3 Constructive Feedback Vs Casual Views – Usually feedback is very critical for any Design in the making. It is important to consider constructive feedback as a catalyst for improvement. But often those who are entrusted with productive feedback get caught between what somebody thinks and what is actually useful for the Design. Not being able to differentiate between the two could be unhealthy. One should know how to filter feedback and channel the information that will be useful and productive in the Design process. Filtering is a tool rather than a task. It is about applying your sense and knowledge in a constructive manner rather than getting carried away by anything and everything that is placed as a comment on Design.
F4 Sum of parts Vs One stop solution – Gone are the days when brand marketers used to rely on one agency/ service provider for all brand design & communication needs. Today the industry has got fragmented and many specialists have emerged who participate in the making of the whole. Being a knowledge driven business there are instances where the minds are at war, and Design is in the battle ground. Roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined for any Design project to avoid any casualties.
F5 Grammar or language – One of the most vulnerable issues in Design. I have noticed many brand marketers clearly defining their objective / expectation as ‘young, modern and active’. They don’t realize what each of these words could mean in the language of Design Development and how the whole creation process could steer away from the path if these words are not decoded in that specific scenario or situation. It is not only with these three words but a lot is said which can be avoided so that we don’t erode the essence we want to establish and mind space we wish to occupy. Design people are highly sensitive to words/ grammar and any wrong word or word misunderstood could end up creating a complete UFD – Unwanted Favourable Design.
F6 Taking Decisions – A lot of brand marketers become indecisive when it comes to design discussions. There is some kind of fear in saying that ‘we like it’ and ‘let’s go for it’. They often remark the contrary, delaying the process and making more hills out of dust. Design often needs a good reason, a strong inspiration & great interpretation. If these tools are not accompanying design then there is bound to be friction.
F7 Deliberation – A lot of people like to deliberately create confusion. They keep comparing situations, other brands, other non related designs / issues causing clarity to get washed out like a bucket of water. Soapy and slippery, people are bound to tumble. Time is of essence in Design. Your ideas could become dreams if not put into action at the right time. Great ideas become sluggish if they miss the timeline or deadline. Bad ideas have no room for survival however they cause damage more than asked for.