Saturday, September 18, 2010

“selling out”

Well, not really. But sort of.

I’m a Learning Assistant for freshmen residents in the dorms that I live in this year. I put on 5 workshops a semester based around academics with packets of information as takeaway. I create many posters and door tags to advertise for these events, as well as other college and study tip related handout materials for rounds that I complete a few times a week.

Because of this, I spend hours at a time pouring through tons of free font sites ( I’m looking at you) looking for the best flame-themed font for my pizza and wings study skills session (hint: there isn’t one). I take the decision of neon orange or hot pink paper choice for packets very seriously – will pink be too girly? Will orange burn everyone’s eyes out? Does it matter that I used orange on my last flier and there are 3 more of that color on the bulletin board right now? What’s left in the supply closet?

These are the serious design questions I face every day.

While I think it’s (always) super important to focus on design quality in everything I do, I also understand the limitations of design and the audiences I am responsible for. I love spending time typesetting my posters and fliers and creating type hierarchy in my packets. But in the end, it comes down to a fine balance of design and content (not to mention time). My students attend my programs in order to learn the most they can about the transition from high school to college academics – and for the free food, naturally. They are largely engineering or science students. They can’t tell Times New Roman from Georgia and frankly, they probably think Comic Sans is the perfect font choice for anything other than essays.

So while I could probably spend minimal time and effort on my materials, I still choose not to. I certainly don’t spend the same amount of time on (most of) these that I would on my Information Design or Advanced Typography comps – but occasionally I’ll come close. This is where I start thinking about the notion of selling out, or whatever term is appropriate here.

As designers, how much should we play to our audience? When do we decide enough is enough, or minimal effort will slide us by? If we can spend less time on a project, should we? These questions are especially relevant for students, in my opinion.

At the moment, I am not working as a freelance designer, so of course the answer for me is not as economically driven as it may be for those who are. Freelancing artists definitely have another angle to consider – time is money and money is time. I’d like to believe (and think it’s true!) that this is also tempered with a good amount of design consideration, but sometimes a project or project leg has to just be declared done in order to move on and continue your livelihood.

As a full-time student, the answer is a little less clear at times. I am certainly not getting paid monetarily for the work I do, and frankly it’s not even necessary that I “design” my materials for activities outside of classes. But if you follow this train of thought, the fact that I’m a student is even more important than nonpayment – I am paying for an education in this field of study. Shouldn’t I take every opportunity to exercise and train myself in this field? Even if it requires more time on my end, don’t I want to be proud of what I am producing?

It definitely doesn’t hurt to be known as “the EMAC*” who designs all of her materials. In fact, it’s quite flattering. However, it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges – the other students in my position are not design students and thus don’t face these questions. And in the end, this fact means that designing my materials doesn’t necessarily teach me more or push me about design. But it does make me more aware of the materials I’m producing in “everyday” life, in addition to my design work.

I can’t be the only one who experiences this dichotomy. I’ve often faced the same problem with presentations for classes, fliers for clubs, and report covers. I think it’s enhanced because I am a dual major in arts and not-arts at a primarily engineering school where form is rarely thought about and function rules all. Switching between the two schools of thought can be exhausting and tends to lead me into a haze of perfectionism where no final product is satisfactory to me. It can be frustrating to see the importance of design aesthetics where many don’t see or appreciate the purpose in print design, and that line that we must balance as students occasionally becomes frighteningly hard to see.

Have you ever experienced this as a design student or professional? What about as a non-design student? How do you deal with it, in either situation?

*EMAC = Electronic Media, Arts, and Communications – the graphic arts major at my school. I am concentrating in Graphic Design.

1 comment:

MOM said...

Very interesting post. Ultimately, you have to feel yourself satisfied with your results, you are representing yourself. It doesn't have to be "perfect" as you pointed out time constraints often are there, but I feel any decent output ultimately affects your performance in the long run, i.e. you learn as you go, and that doing something you're proud of is enough, and when you have time, energy, etc., improvements can be made. Love you!