Graphic Design Is Always About Something Else

Posted on by Guy Cookson

Jessica Walsh

Given how much graphic design has shaped the world around us it is surprising how few graphic designers are known outside the narrow confines of their profession.

No matter how familiar the work – from brand identities and product packaging to movie posters and album covers – the creators remain, for the most part, stubbornly anonymous.

Beyond the mid-Century greats – such as Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Massimo Vignelli and Alan Fletcher – very few graphic designers have achieved the cultural kudos or renown of, say, leading architects.

This is not to say the likes of Paula Scher, Peter Saville, Susan Kare, or Michael Bierut lack influence. On the contrary, you can see echoes of their work everywhere.

And, thanks in part to platforms like Instagram, younger designers, such as Jessica Walsh, Kate Moross and Maurice Cherry, are able to cut through and attract followers as never before.

But still, for the most part, graphic design appears to emerge out of the ether fully formed and without credit.

To discover the creative minds behind a devilishly clever logo or beautiful new campaign usually requires careful parsing of the trade press or some tenacious Googling.

And that is perhaps the way it should be. As an agency we are at the service of our clients. We are hired not to raise our own profile, but to raise that of the brands that hire us.

“Graphic design is unique,” explains Michael Bierut. “Architecture is always about the building. Fashion design is always about the garment. But graphic design is always about something else.”

It goes even deeper. Just as the creator should not distract from the design, the design itself should not distract from its function.

The London Underground Tube map, first designed by Harry Beck in 1931, works so well as a means of navigating the city that we hardly notice it has been designed at all.

Bad design draws attention to itself. It gets in the way. It impedes rather than facilitates.

Although, as Jessica Walsh once said, “If no one hates it, no one really loves it.”

Paul Rand


Paula Scher


Saul Bass


A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Post. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.

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