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WTH happened to Graphic Design?

Two ad campaigns, one intelligent and one offensive

So I went to this event: “Italian Graphic Design – Design and Industry” at the Italian Embassy.

I didn’t know what to expect at first but then I was blown away.

I asked myself: “What happened to Graphic Design?”. How did we pass from these amazing compositions to the run-of-the-mill we see today?

Pick Pirelli. You look at the above examples of advertising and you would buy them and hang them in your living room. But would you hang today’s Pirelli AD in your home?


Clearly, this is a good AD. It’s just not great. It doesn’t have a personality, it doesn’t have a ‘heart’. You could change the logo with Firestone’s and you would barely notice it.

Back in the days instead, there was this beautiful idea of using the product  and art as a starting point. Not the consumer.

User-centred design, and following generic ‘best practices’ make sense most of the time, but not when creativity is the key to a project.

User-centred doesn’t mean:”Designing for people current behaviour”. It means: “Designing for the most efficient behaviour”.

User-centred design today often means oversimplifying a design, a message, a campaign, an interface, to reduce the risk of a lowered conversion.

Can you imagine designing a highway interchange based on the way many people actually drive? It wouldn’t make much sense, right? That is why it’s paramount to design while keeping the user in mind, rather than design ‘for’ the user.

Often, as human and as users, we don’t know what we want until we see it.

Mac is often used as a good example of a personal computer designed for the user, but not ‘around’ the user. That means that its logic, its features, its limitations are designed to serve but also guide the user, not by giving in to all bad users habits as Window’s interface does, but rather by teaching design principles to the user.

Now we are used to “how Macs work”, because we learned it. It’s clean, it’s simple, it’s intuitive. It is not a coincidence that Apple as set the course for the current way most of our technology looks and interact with us. More interestingly, we now expect technology to behave like a Mac, rather than a PC.

Shouldn’t it be this way for any sort of design product? From a leaflet to the brand identity of a corporation?

So when I look at this:

Or this:

I can see that something was lost in the search for the perfect marketing piece: Creativity. Method. Independency.

Is it possible to win it back? Of course, there are new cases of brilliant design and advertising every day,  but there is less culture of design today, especially in corporations, then there was fifty years ago, unfortunately.

I personally strive to show my clients different solutions, various ways to approach the same problem. Often they only need to see what’s possible, simply because they often don’t know any better.

As graphic designers, we have huge responsibility. We put out in the world messages and images that will influence people’s lives, children’s lives even. It’s important to be honest and strive for something well thought through and well-executed, without settling for “what people want to see”.

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