*Cries in graphic design*

A few years ago I had a client who was an artist. I designed various things for her including CSS upgrades to her website. She wanted a “clean white” look on her site to emphasize her art. She’d send me a lot of her content to work with.

Her specialty was public art so for her main image underneath the nav bar I had the idea to create a 3D model of a public park and everything would be white except for her public artwork.

When I finished the design I thought it was beautiful. The trees, park benches, and sidewalk were all white and were in sharp contrast to her colorful artwork. Your eye would be drawn to the colorful spots (her work) and the white surroundings matched the overall white look of the portfolio site.

I showed it to my client. She immediately made a face and said something along the lines of “that’s a temporary placeholder, right?”

I went quiet for a second and then nodded quickly. “Yeah, just seeing where I should display your work,” I said.

We eventually settled on a sorta collage of her work as the image underneath the nav bar if I recall correctly. I personally thought the look she wanted with the collage looked messy, but she was the client, and I was getting paid to create what she wanted.

Graphic design is all about visual communication. If you’re using graphic design as a marketing tool, then the psychology of your user base is important. You’re not just designing stuff that is “pretty” but accurately communicates the ideas you’re highlighting.

It seems like a simple matter of disagreement over appearance but the client and I actually disagreed on the message. My goal was to highlight her work. Her goal was to highlight how her work fit into public scenes. My white environment ignored the vast array of colors in a public setting.

Graphic designers have a set of practices and theories to create beautiful stuff. We understand color theory, typography, the rule of thirds, and so on, but we can grow fixed in those ideas.

For example, I tend to avoid monochromatic designs for call-to-action material. If I’m doing a newsletter where someone is expected to click on something, a monochromatic look is the opposite of what I go for. I use different colors at different spots to carefully guide the reader’s gaze through the material before the viewer’s eyes hits the “SIGN UP NOW!” button.

However, if a client insists on a monochromatic palette there are other methods to attract people such as careful placement of material or different levels of tints or saturation for the buttons.

There is a culture that forms from designer practices. Many designers hate comic sans (I joke about it a lot) but ask a non-designer and they’ll probably call it “cute” or “casual”. The “I know how to make stuff better than you” idea can lead to hostility from graphic designers for the people who make a design career possible. Graphic designers should be skilled enough to make a client happy and get the client’s message across (most of the time anyway, some stuff may be unsalvageable garbage).

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