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Would Leonardo da Vinci have made it as a web designer?

Date/Time Permalink: 09/11/07 05:28:02 am
Category: General

To start with, I uploaded some new 1600x1200 wallpapers to the ol' gallery. They look like this:


The usual...

But this got me thinking on the topic of design for a living, spurred by a couple of recent rambles in the bloggiverse. Creative UI had a post on "Overcoming clients with bad taste…", where I've been discussing the reality versus what we wish for. And then a while back, on Reddit we were noshing on a debate about the design business spurred by a Craiglist rant.

Bottom line: When it comes to freelance design work, I've discovered a rule that applies to 90% of the clients. The rule is this list of things that clients won't go for:

  • original ideas
  • innovation
  • daring concepts
  • new styles
  • 'out-of-the-box' thinking

... and this list of what they will go for:

  • Anything that copies what everybody else is doing.

I debated on Reddit: People don't want a timeless masterpiece. They want crap. When I make crap in 30 minutes flat, it sells. When I work for two weeks on a big project that I poured my soul into, it ends up in my portfolio and no-where else.

I'm not the first one to utter lamentations about it, and I won't be the last. But it's funny that here we've had computers as a consumer commodity just about 35 years, and already the tunnel-vision sets in. Nothing says "I don't understand and I'm afraid to admit it." like imitating everybody else.

But we aren't still stuck in 1995. Clearly, somebody, somewhere occasionally manages to talk their boss into trying something new. As Smashing Magazine pointed out recently, we have this new trend where suddenly everybody's doing leaves in logos this year.

So, innovation in design goes in fits and starts. The cave men go on with stone clubs for centuries, and then suddenly one of them invents the bow and arrow and then everybody uses that for centuries more. Really, this is the same factor affecting graphic art that affects other kinds of art. It's why this year's Top 40 radio hits sound just like last year's. It's why you see no superhero movies, then one, and then after that every superhero from the the Xmen to Ghost Rider suddenly has their own movie. It's why there were no cubist paintings until one day Picasso wondered "What happens if I do this?"

Check those wallpapers at the top of the post again: some of them are derivative and others are not. The one with the sunburst is a variation on this theme, for instance. The one with the arrows was an idea I got from a preview of a Vecteezy vector pack, though I made my own arrows (Vecteezy apparently only supports proprietary formats). Others, like the deep blue one with the flowers, are my own inspiration from scratch.

Yet, I'll be darned if the derivative ones don't look better sometimes! Now, is it because

  • (a) My own ideas aren't as good.
  • (b) I'm preconditioned through familiarity to like an image that's similar to one I've seen before.
  • (c) I'm more confident drawing inspiration from other artists because I'm using an idea that's already been proven to work, as opposed to grappling with my own half-realized concept.


That is the question!

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