Sigh. The marketing dept of a company I just began freelancing for just returned all excited with lots of photos from a beautiful trade show (no comment on how they got them). From these photos they created a gorgeous presentation describing marketplace trends, etc.
At first I was excited - here’s a company who seems to care about design and would like me to do some fun and fresh designs. And then. They asked me to create designs “inspired” by specific items featured in the photos.
Now here’s the thing - they specifically stated they don’t want to knock anybody off - these were just their “great ideas” that they got at the trade show and I should somehow incorporate these features into new items. Now, these are decent people, and they honestly believe that their intentions are, well, if not exactly pure as snow, at least not dishonorable, and that this is what product development and design direction are all about.
Is this the first time I’ve encountered this scenario in my career? Of course not. But it’s the first time in a a number of years, and I now feel the intense desire to spew my little theory about why designers are often asked, by well-intentioned marketing departments, to create designs based on a photo of an already existing product, which is this:
People who are not trained artists or designers have a difficult time envisioning objects which don’t exist - and even if they can envision it, they have no means by which to express it to other people. They don’t have the verbal language to describe color and texture, don’t know how to draw in order to develop ideas and express form, haven’t constructed anything in order to understand materials, and don’t know the history of the fine and decorative arts in order to put it all into a context.
Now, before you go thinking that this is another rant against marketing, I actually have some sympathy for these guys and don’t mean this in pejorative way - my first drawing teacher insisted that everyone can learn to draw, and in fact I believe all of the above skills can be learned by almost everyone, just like we all learn to read. True, some will be much better at it than others. But an artist or designer is someone who has invested the time and money necessary to learn these communication skills, among other things (notice I haven’t even mentioned talent or creativity or taste - that’s another subject).
So, as it stands, you have all of these people in sales and marketing who may or may not be creative or have good taste (whatever that is), and whose only means of developing product is by using existing product. So, it seems logical that if they have access to a designer, they hand them a photo and ask them to design something like it. Which makes a designer want to puke.
Once again, I’m struggling with what to do here. Obviously I can walk away. But the money is decent and I like the product category. I can try to educate the company, but what am I supposed to be, a one-woman design crusader? In the past I would just continuously bust my ass to design something that was even BETTER than what they showed me, so that they’d they’d have a hard time turning it down. But now I’m just getting depressed.
Any comments or suggestions? How have YOU dealt with this scenario? What worked and what didn’t?