One point constantly illustrated and encouraged within design academia is that one should show a consistant style in their work and success is seen by those who’s work is instantly recognisable.
But what can we learn from great graphic designers of the past and our modern giants? Have designers made a conscious effort to make all their work look similar? Or is it simply an individuals personality coming through in their work?
Today giants; Stefan Sagmeister.
Both images above are work produced by Sagmeister inc. On the left the art work for ‘Once In A Lifetime’ by ‘Talking Heads’ and on the right a rebrand project for Aizone. At first glance, if you’re unfamiliar with it, neither project would be instantly recognisable as Sagmeisters work. In fact, the only thing linking the two projects is that their both a little off the wall. Stefan Sagmeister is one of the most successful designers of out time so surely this rules out the teaching that ‘success is seen by those who’s work is instantly recognisable’. But the point design academics are making is that, for high-end work, a client must have a reason to come to you specifically. If Talking Heads simply wanted something that looked nice and would sell multiple units they could have used any old designer but they went to Sagmeister specifically because they wanted something a little bit mad.
For almost 2 decades Steven noble has been producing these beautiful illustrated corporate identities. Nobles’ work is consistent and recognisable and he has seen success from this, it is clear that if a company wants an illustrative traditional logotype, Noble is the guy to turn to. Academics tell countless stories of their ex-students struggling as graphic designers in the early stages of their careers only to see success when marketing themselves as something more specific such as an ‘illustrative typographer’ or a ‘conceptual graphic artist’, they would update their online portfolios, social networks and project intake to fit their new title, showing only selected work that best illustrated this. These stories would always end in success, but is it necessary to constrict oneself? Is it a long and healthy career plan to narrow ones work down to such an extent?
One of the pasts greatest, Saul Bass had a long career in design and created work including everything from children’s books to hifi cabinets. His work is both recognisable and varied, that is not to say one would glance upon his exhibition space and proclaim ‘That’s a Bass!’ However if I were asked to sketch up a poster in the style of Saul Bass I would start with a simplified, bold abstract form resembling something integral to the brief and arrange some quirky bold type around or above it. Bass’ style was consistant, but it was his personality and keen eye that drove his work rather than a conscious effort to restrict himself.
What can we take from this?
Indeed a great way to market yourself as a designer is to specify exactly what it is you exceed in. While this remains great and proven advice it’s probably in our best interests for career longevity and our souls to follow our hearts as designers. Remain true to our own personalities which will come through in whatever we do so long as we keep educated, informed, ahead of technology, keep up with trends and competitors and don’t steal too much. Our work will stand out as our own and clients will seek it out based on it’s own individual merits.