The Conundrum of Delivering Iconic Design

by Gina Angie on 01/12/2012 | 3 Minute Read

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"The quest for design excellence is tireless and never-ending; it also is one of the most rewarding endeavors that a designer can undertake. Delivering design excellence, also known as world-class design or iconic design, can present a conundrum: How do you unlock creativity and deliver your best work under the strictures of tight deadlines and budgets? Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that you can apply to every design problem you face because each assignment is unique. However, the following tips may help you solve the riddle of delivering iconic design.

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Identify your inspiration. Most designers I know have an uncontrollable desire to consistently deliver great design – a compelling motivation to excel at their craft. Even after completing a project, these designers will be able to tell you at least three more things they would like to optimize to enhance a particular aesthetic. It is important that you, too, identify what motivates you to deliver iconic design and draw upon that inspiration every day. Is it fame, wealth, awards, peer/employer recognition? For me, the answer is clear: I have wanted to be a designer my entire life; my passion is branding and package design. Using my craft to help clients communicate with millions of people every day exhilarates me and provides great personal satisfaction. If you tap into your own personal motivators when tackling each new assignment you are less likely to become complacent and predictable, to dip into the well of past successes and routine solutions.

Define and defend iconic design. Define what iconic design means to you and your client, and don’t fret the skeptics. Believe me, there will be an endless line of naysayers along your journey, all quick to critique concepts, point out flaws, and challenge every decision. These skeptics may include your family, friends, neighbors, peers, bosses, clients/gatekeepers, marketing professionals, brand managers, design managers, sales representatives, researchers, CEOs, CMOs, CFOs, consumers, design communities, blog sites, design councils, competition judges, and even strangers. It seems like everyone’s a design critic!

Whenever I embark on a new design project I make it a priority to ask my clients an important question: How do they define iconic design? If they don’t have a clear answer, there are exercises I can use to help uncover and identify this for them. Defining iconic design in tandem with your client enables you to frame your design solution based on a common point of view. But this alignment is just one part of the design process: Once a project is under way, you will need bravery to defend your definition of iconic design, as well as the conviction to sell and celebrate it (and your solution) throughout the initiative’s life cycle.

Acknowledge and work through roadblocks. Throughout your career you will be faced with roadblocks to achieving iconic design. Among tactical obstacles are insufficient or incorrect information at the start of a design project; lack of a singularly focused vision and well-defined success criteria; unknown or unanticipated gatekeepers; dramatic changes in project scope, budget or timeline. You need to acknowledge and work through these limitations as they arise. Asking the right questions of your clients and their customers can help you formulate a project plan that will clear the path for your joint design journey.

Understand and practice sound design principles. Iconic design is not design for design’s sake: it utilizes sound design principles to create solutions that help brands to forge an emotional connection with consumers and clients to achieve their business goals. We learned these principles – color theory, shapes, pattern, and typography – in design school and should be deploying them every day. They are the proof points of our craft and enable us to bring to life design insights in compelling, iconic ways.

It is easy to fall into the trap of complacency; to develop design solutions that meet a defined need but fail to rise above the expected, the commonplace. However, if you define what iconic design means to you, dig deep to find your well of inspiration, work through roadblocks, and utilize sound design principles, you may discover that the process of delivering iconic design is not so puzzling, after all."

By Jamey Wagner

Creative Director, Interbrand

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