Good Ideas Last

September 7, 2012  |  Elements

For many designers coming up with a brilliant concept for a project involves making something look really cool—using the latest Hoefler & Frere-Jones typeface, mimicking a texture that you saw in an Olly Moss poster, going for that retro look. Believe me, I appreciate all of these things. However, in the process of making something look aesthetically appealing, it is the "good idea" that will endure. 

The American graphic designer Bob Gill emphasizes the importance of ideas in his book "Forget All the Rules You Ever Learned About Graphic Design, Including the Ones in this Book". He puts forth his philosophy about how to take a client's problem and making it a problem worth solving. Once an idea manifests itself, the visual treatment need only support the message. He uses the example of the 1950's CBS sitcom "Private Secretary' about a clumsy receptionist who works with a talent agent. He was asked to design the title card for the show. Gill began to study actual secretaries and noticed that when they made a mistake on a typewriter they would mark over the typo with an "x". This act would inform both his idea and visual execution for the title. While it maybe isn't as visually arresting as later more colorful revisions of the title, it will always be a stronger design because of the idea. This design earned him recognition from the ArtDirectorsClub and ultimately changed his approach to client work. 

Bob Gill Private Secretary

Gill has many great achievements in his career including laying the foreground for Pentagram, but what I find most inspiring is the way he has redefined his approach to design. The chapter titles in "Forget All the Rules You Ever Learned About Graphic Design…" begin to explain some of his methods: 

The problem is the problem.

Interesting words need boring graphics.

Think first, then draw.

Stealing is good.

Boring words need interesting graphics.

Less is more.

More is more.

"I was only following orders."

Gill's words are a reminder that graphic designers are in the business of ideas, and good ideas last.