Don't box yourself into a design pigeonhole

Recently I sat down next to a well-dressed man on the tube. He was reading a book. Nothing really different to normal. I was bored, so glanced over at the page he was on. What I didn't expect was to see a big, bold letter 'g' set unmistakably in Gill Sans – he was reading a beautiful collector's journal of typography. Original edition. A book that would not be out of place in my own library.

I looked a little closer at the man reading this thing of beauty. Thick, angular glasses - check. Expensive, kooky, tailored jacket - check. Slim trousers. Hair and stubble carefully groomed. All in black. Check, check, check. Sitting beside me was the perfectly put-together stereotype of a graphic designer.

Designer wardrobe malfunction

Feeling inquisitive, I asked him about the book. What took me by surprise was that instead of the expected excitement at someone sharing their love of typography, I was met with a quizzical look up-and-down, followed by a dismissive grunt which implied, "You wouldn't be interested". Granted, that day I was not sporting the female equivalent of the 'designer's wardrobe'. In fact, I was wearing my usual attire, a colourful mishmash of styles that changes every day. I guess I didn't fit the bill.

When I arrived at my desk, this encounter got me thinking. As a profession we tend to live and breathe 'design'. Not just in dressing the part, but also in how we decorate our homes, in the carefully chosen artwork adorning our walls and the music we listen to. Each and everything is considered, and so it should be - to an extent. Our profession is (luckily) in our lives and hearts 24 hours a day.

But pigeonholing ourselves in to one style (and consequently being dismissive of other styles that do not fit this category) is potentially damaging. There's nothing wrong with loving modernist forms or neon madness or classical elegance. But remember not to love one form to the distraction of the others. Good graphic design is not just about looking the part or forcing your personal style on a project, however fashionable it may be.

Dressing the part

Ultimately, we are employed to solve problems for other people. Design 'dresses' a subject, a brand, a product. And that design should fit that subject matter, brand or product perfectly. It comes in all forms, not just the one of the moment. As designers, we should ooze passion and exuberance and curiosity, whilst, of course, maintaining a degree of structure.

Let's make sure we have fun in design. Be inclusive rather than selective. Reference a variety of styles, cultures, age groups and fashions. Experiment and take chances. Keep our work as inspiring as it can be, and not define ourselves and our work by a narrow set of rules. We are, after all, the people who are lucky enough to make a living from creating, inspiring, and doing what we love.

Words: Louise Sloper

Louise Sloper is head of design at BETC London, last year picking up awards including a Campaign Outdoor Hall of Fame, an Epica and an ADC. She is a D&AD 2014 juror and a committee member of the Typographic Circle. This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 224.

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