Perched in the hills overlooking Pasadena is a great setting to study design. When I went to Art Center in the early 80s, I was surrounded by all sorts of interesting and highly accomplished influences, not just in graphic design but in product design, automobile design, photography, illustration, and advertising. Some of my instructors were industry leaders who provided many visual references of what was considered great design. I soaked it up, like the California sun I happily found myself under on those shivery, 65 degree January days in LA.
Being pre-web, these references were books on all the great design movements like the Bauhaus, gold standard magazines like Communication Arts showcasing the best the design world had to offer, exhibits fusing architecture, design and the environment, minimalist ads by modern masters, exquisitely crafted displays of the cars of tomorrow, etc. And we talked a lot about design, what constitutes great design, what makes a great designer, what is the role of design in business, why design is valid to the CEO, what separates design from art, and so on.
When I got out of school, I was one heck of an educated visual designer. I also carried with me an impressive collection of reference material—books, magazines, scrap files, etc., so I could continue to stay “in the moment,” aware of every trend and expert practitioner in the field.
I wouldn’t trade my design school experience for anything, but I have to admit that looking back, all of the powerful influences also served to cloud the innovativeness, trust and intuition that had landed me there in the first place. Starting my own business is when those characteristics began to return, the same characteristics that have kept clients coming back.
A real challenge we marketers face today is remarkably like what I experienced in the years after design school, the need to turn down the noise and trust our own experience and instincts to provide innovative solutions for our clients. Like everyone else, we’re networking, Facebooking, linking in, attending webinars, watching videocasts, and reading blogs and tweets, which we then refine, rewrite, retweet, reblog, redesign, and generally review on a minute-by-minute basis. This is both incredibly useful and highly addicting. At times, it is also a crutch, an apparently legitimate way to avoid creating original content or trusting one’s own intuition. Many marketers today have no place for intuition. It can’t be measured. When I started my business 17 years ago, I’m glad I never read that.