Done in a second, and…

Published:  August 13, 2012
Clinton Duncan
Done in a second, and…

Insightful and interesting piece about a concept Malcolm Gladwell has called ‘thin slicing’ – which I’d just call ‘being good’. It’s written by Carlo Giannasca, design director at Emery VincentemeryfrostFrost Design.

“Research is often used to post rationalise what we already know or suspect to be true. One thing I have noticed is that the longer I work in our industry and gather more experience, the more accurate my intuition becomes. Who amongst you hasn’t sat in a design briefing and within minutes have designed in our heads exactly what you were going to do.”

Carlo actually took me to my first ever press check, lovingly explaining to me the processes at work on the big Heidelberg, what to look out for and how to get the printer on side before you start asking to make endless tiny adjustments. He’s proper old school and has been designing longer than I have been breathing (true), and he’s still there in the studio, pumping out good work, year after year. It’s nice to see Carlo’s name and profile popping out from beneath the shadow of that other guy.

The post sparked a memory of a Paula Scher video that influenced me very much, and is a very similar piece of wisdom to Carlo’s point above, albeit in a far more pithy and impactful manner. Paula famously drew the new Citi logo on a table napkin during the client briefing lunch. A multibillion dollar corporation, indeed one of the biggest, a massive branding program and high expectations, diverse stakeholder groups, as you’d expect in a mega-merger such as that. And there’s Paula, sketching the below and solving the whole damn thing before the client even finished their briefing her over a business lunch with fellow Pentagram partner Michael Beirut.

Sketch by Paula Scher

Talk about ‘thin slicing’ – Paula rationalised the mark by saying something along the lines of (excuse the paraphrasing) “the old Travellers Insurance logo was an umbrella and the Citibank logo was a word mark, so it seemed pretty obvious you draw an arc over the t and you have combined both.” The client was aghast that all that money they were paying for this identity and seemingly, in just five minutes or so, Paula had it nailed before the briefing had even been finished – apparently Beirut even advised her to maybe keep these immediate strokes of genius to herself in order to keep a semblance of value in the eyes of the client.

But Paula’s response to Beirut, her client and anyone else who questions the value of something created ‘in five minutes’ was poetic, insightful and has impacted the way I view my work as a designer ever since;

“How could it be that you talk to someone and it’s done in a second? But it is done in a second! It’s done in a second and 34 years. You know, it’s done in a second and every experience, and every movie, and every thing of my life that’s in my head.”

What Carlo chalked up to experience and time in the profession, Paula expands out and hits upon a deeper insight into life as a designer, something that I often share with people as both a warning and an advertisement of working in this industry.

There is no off position on the designer switch

What I mean to say, as Paula and Carlo touch upon, is that everything becomes fuel for your creativity. Everything is seen through the lens of graphic design – craft, attention to detail, originality, authenticity, formal aesthetic concerns. You no longer see ‘just a road sign’ – you see a type selection made to balance legibility at distance and speed, a pictogram chosen to convey as much information with as little clutter as possible. You see radiused corners on a triangle, the use of colour theory and finally the choice of material.

No book cover, album artwork, brochure, advertisement, film, website, newspaper, TV branding graphics, signage system, photograph, illustration, gallery based artwork or street art is ever the same again. You’re a changed woman or man. It’s pretty tiring actually.

But all those little nuances, details, tricks and techniques get filed away in the subconscious, either in a library or perhaps just a big pile, depending on your brain. Whenever a new brief is set, a new challenge taken on, a new problem to solve – your subconscious  goes to work, cross referencing and connecting the dots. The magic of our brain is that it can near instantly cross reference and connect 10, 20 or in Paula’s case, 34 years, of professional practise as a designer. But more importantly it’s the living in, and observing of, the world around us as human beings that truly equips you as a designer.

Next time a tricky problem or tough brief confronts me, I’m going to remember their advice and not look for the solution in a book or on a blog – but walk out the studio door and off into the world, with little or no idea as to where I’m going. That thrill of the unknown is exactly why you’d work in the world of commercial creativity, and it’s that same place where the most interesting ideas seem to ‘materialise’ in just a second, and…

This article was first published on 12 August 2012 on Clinton’s Duncan’s blog.

2 Responses

  1. Agree. Moments of Genius from a lifetime of design experiences.

  2. Indeed lifetime experience is really important to make a successful design.

    We always believe that just as in a famous song in the world, you will not be able to feel it until you have experienced it by yourselves.

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