Popular Lies About Graphic Design

Popular Lies About Graphic Design
A new book by Craig Ward reviewed by Ed Roberts

What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever been told about design?

Milton Glaser says, “Less is more.” David Carson answers by saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” And years ago, James Victore was told “you can’t use more than two typefaces on a cover.” I’ve heard over the course of my career many lies about design and the practitioners of the craft. Unfortunately, you’ve probably heard this lie, “In-house designers suck!” One of the biggest, most pervasive lies I’ve heard has to be “designers can’t write.” Lies. All lies!

World-renowned typographer, ADC Young Gun, and TEDx speaker Craig Ward has just completed one of the most comprehensive typographic projects—his first book—a book of opinions that he felt compelled to write and I felt compelled to read.

In Popular Lies About Graphic Design Ward has great fun slipping into the role of our industry’s L’Enfant terrible, juxtaposing his masterfully eye-popping and starkly exquisite typographic skills with contrarian prose that debunks both myths and lies that at one moment step on your toes and the next makes you burst into a deep guttural laugh in the face of our industry’s most tired belief systems.

A native of the United Kingdom, Ward states, “One designer’s grid is another’s skulls and spraypaint.” He suggests in his new book that design is like a religion, its most devout are blindly adhering to a school of thought without ever questioning its validity. Craig writes that many of these mantras and maxims tend to be misconceptions, half-truths and (in some cases) outright lies. I believe he would prefer that we examine design’s oldest belief systems through a scientist’s microscope and consider that other possibilities can and do exist.

One of my favorite chapters in Popular Lies About Graphic Design is the lie Craig debunks titled “People care about design.” On literally ink stained pages, Ward beautifully writes about the value of design in a very genuine and real context. I believe it speaks volumes about the in-house designer in particular:

It’s easy to point at expensive, luxury items and call them ‘Designer Brands,’ but there’s a real dignity in being the designer that makes a utility bill easier to understand for an elderly person. Or helping someone find their way through a crowded city centre or airport. This is the kind of design people interact with—and truly need—but don’t really pay attention to or perhaps acknowledge as design. And that is sadly to be your lot in life.

And the really bad news? It’s a lie that will continue to be told. We will continue to tell ourselves that people care about design, but it’s not something that will change. Perhaps people do care about design but don’t realise it. Perhaps they would care more if it were taken away. If road signs were suddenly hand painted, non-standardised and mis-spelt.

The truth is reading Popular Lies About Graphic Design will not make you a better designer (read the chapter “An education in design is pointless”). You won’t learn some new software trick that when applied will make you a master of the design universe (read the chapter “Designers are famous”). I believe Craig Ward’s new book will do exactly what he intends; it will get you thinking about our industry’s most staid beliefs in fresh and exciting ways (read the chapter “Open plan offices = collaboration and better work”). Popular Lies About Graphic Design stomped on my toes and made me laugh out loud at 3 a.m.

Look, the truth is hard to see. Craig Ward’s new book will not only open your eyes but also your mind, helping you see the design industry from a uniquely new perspective. It’s one fun read.

Popular Lies About Graphic Design by Craig Ward (ISBN 8415391358), published by Actar will be available for purchase in the United States on January 21, 2013.

Ed Roberts is Creative Lead at ElectriCities of NC, Inc. and manages a team of creative superheroes. Follow Ed (@InHouseObs) on Twitter for more inspiration and insight.

4 thoughts on “Popular Lies About Graphic Design

  1. Jessica

    Great article! It’s definitely perked my interest about this book. I agree entirely about how the overlooked, practical designs are truly the ones people could not live without. Working briefly in wayfinding taught me that too. Design and legibility are key to creating either a carefree or a frustrating experience for the audience.

  2. Roberto

    Interesting article, it does persuade me to read this book. I can see how those misconceptions, half-trues, and lies have a stronghold on my own design education. Looking back, my instructors mystified the industry and “the real world” with their own mantras and impossible standards of excellence set up by the “masters of design.” Terrified then, I can call it BS—fine half-BS—now!