I recall my first read of How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul. I was still in design school and on the hunt for justifiable reasons as to why I'd decided to incur more debt in order to shift my career toward graphic design. I recall at the time that I found much solace in the content.
Five years on, Adrian Shaughnessy presents a second edition that has kept its first edition forward by Stefan Sagmeister, which could still hold true today: Graphic design is becoming a wider discipline and is therefore more difficult.
As one who has pursued some of these "wider aspects" since the first edition, I was appreciative of his inquiry into what graphic design is today. Topics in this section include: the changing definition of design, social design, design thinking and ethics (to name a few). While Shaughnessy does not neglect the fundamental questions asked in the first book, he provides a fair assessment of the current state of affairs that is in keeping with the inquiry that many designers are also asking, regardless of discipline. In fact, one wonders if the word "graphic" needed to be included at all.
Shaughnessy acknowledges his fixation with "the look of things" and seemingly laments that our current focus on matters of social consequence may be lacking a certain visual sensibility. I think he makes a fair case about its value but would argue that today many are interacting with a diverse global community that may translate such sensibilities in different ways. Especially when the issues of design aren't about the look of things but rather the survival of things.
Consider a country in crisis: Haiti. Post-earthquake, the look of things becomes seemingly less important because the transmission of accurate information is paramount. A great case study to illustrate this concept:
Three Emily Carr University students were asked by the Red Cross to develop graphical instructions on how to use tablets to purify water. Because these tablets look like pills, the students had to consider how they would ensure that they were used properly (i.e. not ingested). With a critical time line and important message to communicate, I don't think these students were thinking about whether the design was going to be dull or not. Because in this case (and many others), the message actually does matter. And I believe this type of scenario has the potential to become more prevalent in the design community as we consider climate and environmental issues, financial and political markets and our global connectedness to both.
Regardless, one can hope that the future will allow room for a blend of both substance and style and that this becomes a reasonable standard for all designers. In the meantime, maybe being a graphic designer today means that we might be given the chance to save a soul (or two) beyond our own.
Title: How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, New Edition
Author: Adrian Shaughnessy
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
Thanks to Michael Surtees for sharing this review copy with me!