When other people recognize your work, it is a great compliment. They may recognize your humorous attitude coming through the work or see a visual treatment that you have brought to many of your solutions in the past. These distinguishing characteristics reflect your style, which can come through you unconsciously. In fact, your style is you.
The places we’ve been and things we’ve seen, felt, or heard all broaden our vision as designers. They also define us. For example, a trip to Vermont to see the foliage could add to your color pallet; an unfortunate visit to a hospital’s emergency room could shock you into realizing how efficient people can be under pressure. In either case, both experiences will be internalized: you will realize that a recent design has a color you never thought about using before, or it has an energized immediacy about it. These influences can come from everywhere. Can you trace them back? The fact that some place or thing might feed your work is, in effect, acknowledging connections with your larger culture, community, and environment. A good example of this dynamic is a visual series on the impact of the Iraq war by Maria Uroos. She grew up in the Middle East and felt a need to create a visual dialogue about the changes in life, culture, and religion that she saw there. Her tools include text and image, metaphors and analogies, elements and principles. All convey thoughts about the region where she lived, fleshed out into a form that is meant to extend conversations. Each piece begins with her.
In a design experiment by Janet Lee, whose family is in retail fashion, two activities are merged into one composition. She created a montage of typography with a dress form, color chips with fabric swatches, and single-edge cutting blades with scissors. The art historian E. H. Gombrich (1909–2001) wrote, “Anyone who can handle a needle convincingly can make us see a thread which is not there.” The connection this designer makes to retail fashion isn’t necessarily there either, but is more a myth that forges a connection to something more personal and perhaps more meaningful to her. She uses that same ability to tell stories and making connections when creating works for her clients.
In another piece, Rick Valicenti examines his own future role as a graphic designer. The poster’s purpose is to announce a design lecture in Vancouver, Canada, and the character pictured—a jester that is full of remorse—is a portrait of Valicenti himself. Hanging off his hat is a flickering sign that reads “HUGE.” The ghostlike, wispy image of an old man beside his own face hints at his later life. Together, the images make a social comment about whether this effort is all there is in Valicenti’s future, and for that matter, in the profession as a whole. In other words, designers can be practical problem-solvers (such as finding a way to announce an event), but also passionate artists whose work also matters in terms of making a positive difference in the world.
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