Good Design Transcends Formats

I used to teach design. At the University level. I taught about the principles and elements of design, such as Line, Shape, Size, Color, Texture, and also Balance, Symmetry, Contrast, and Harmony. But here’s the thing: my design work was in the discipline of theatrical costumes. Yes, that’s right, I was a theatrical costume designer before I went into graphic design.

How does that apply today to my freelance graphic design career?

The cool thing about the switch in career is that I didn’t have to “re-learn” from scratch. I already had the foundations down pat. The basics of color theory didn’t change. There was a similarity in balancing the various design elements of a costume with balancing the various design elements on a page of a newsletter, a sales letter, or a brochure.

Clean design, in both formats, is design which telegraphs its subtle message without overpowering the main event. It supports the main event, but doesn’t overpower it. In costumes, clean design isn’t cluttered, and if it’s done well, you notice the actor, but not what he’s wearing — the costume usually doesn’t draw attention to itself. The same is true of clean design in marketing materials. Good designs make the message easier to read, or to respond to. But they aren’t “design for design’s sake” — that is, the design itself should not be more important than the message.

Which brings me to another point. Good theatrical designers learn early on that a theatrical production is a collaborative effort. The director, set designer, costume designer, lighting designer, and actors must work together for a successful production. The same is true when a freelance graphic designer works with an art director or creative staff to produce marketing materials. It’s especially critical that the graphic designer work closely with the copywriter.

And if the designer is good at articulating the vision behind the design choices, that collaboration can sizzle. Regardless of format.

Today my formats are brochures, web sites, presentational materials, newsletters, posters, flyers, and sales letters. I still have deadlines, budget constraints, and priorities to meet. I still must ensure project quality and integrity while meeting project goals and objectives.

But I also still care about good design!

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