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Designers Don’t Read — Book Review

In Applied Design on November 9, 2009 at 2:11 am

designers_don't_read

This book completely changed my understanding of how the advertising and graphic design worlds work. I have always considered these two very close disciplines, perhaps different branches, but still within the same family. According to Howe, advertising and graphic design have drifted apart from each other, to a point where they have become completely different domains. They compete with each other for business, but neither one can survive without the other; and the two worlds need to fuse to prevent the deterioration of the entire advertising universe within our country.

Austin Howe is a writer and advertising director who has, in the recent years, turned to only work with graphic designers. He has a thorough understanding of both disciplines but is able to maintain objectivity and see the problems that exist on both ends. This book started out as a series of essays that Howe wrote weekly to share with his friends and colleagues. So, some of the chapters contain topics that may seem a bit off track from the main theme of the book, but the recurring theme throughout is that advertising and graphic design need to come together again, like they were at the beginning.

Howe said, “the future of branded communications is in the fusion of advertising and design (and other brand-related disciplines) at a cellular level and not merely as an add-on … A top-to-bottom reassessment of the creative process, an allocation of human resources and education” (p. 201). He argues that both disciplines are problematic on their own. In his eyes, the top design firms in the United States have the same voices, or at least that’s what they promote. They all claim that they have the most sophisticated creative process and some even go so far as branding them. Some may have fancier verbage than others, but they’re all the same at the end. Advertising agencies, on the other hand, have become award-winning driven instead of serving their clients’ needs. Many highly respected advertising agencies, while turning out mediocre work at best, regard designers as ignorant in conceptual work, and all they know are color and type.

In supporting his argument, Howe repeatedly mentioned examples of how some of the successful advertising agencies and graphic design firms have began working with each other, incorporating each other’s methods and have produced positive results. To go further, he included his involvement with a graphic design firm which employs account planners and strategists to work with the designers, and the result was flawless concept and execution. He believes that the entire creative process needs to be reassessed, it needs to driven by the designers because they dig deeper and they are good at creating logical systems. In his mind, this change has to be initiated by graphic design firms because the advertising industry is too proud to reassess their own process and they are incapable of producing truly creative work. In contrast, graphic design firms can relatively easily expand their services to include other branding activities, which will allow them to carry out advertising duties as well.

As with any other industries, the worlds of advertising and graphic design evolve all the time, for better or for worse. This book is certainly an eye-opener for me. I had a totally different, perhaps naïve, impression of the industry, and it has now been turned completely upside down. Howe used his vast experience in the two industries to tell the tales, offered me a fresh perspective on what I should be looking for in my job search, urging me to research more about what really is happening and be prepared for my career in the future.

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