Whose spotlight is it anyway, The designer or client’s message?

I don’t know about you but I often bump into questions/discussions about creatives expressing themselves though their bread-and-butter. Graphic designers are no exception, they’re believed to be expressing themselves through design/ing.

This belief was also part of the questions I was asked last month, when I was interviewed by Untrendy Graphics.

I think this makes no sense at all. Well, at least in cases of client work.

Let’s stop for a second and employ basic logic.

Does it really make any sense for a client to take their hard-earned money and their time to employ a graphic designer to express him/herself – not the client?

Shouldn’t the design[er] communicate the client’s message? What’s the use of having a design brief if you’re employed to express nothing but thought, opinions or feelings?

Fine, you might have a minimalist approach to design, but that’s not really ‘expressing’ yourself.

The closest to ‘self-expression’ a graphic designer should get is employing their design philosophy/approach to the client’s design project, nothing more.
Your thoughts and feelings as graphic designer during a design project are exactly that, yours, not the client’s.

When I see a design be it a logo, poster, brochure, website etc. by Peter for XYZ Furniture, shouldn’t it ‘shout’ XYZ Furniture (and its message) not peter the graphic designer’s thoughts or feelings?

An effective design should do nothing but help the client get their intended message across.

If you plan on expressing yourself and still get to put food on the table, one of the best and fair way on both parties, designer and client, is to maybe be a painter, and hopefully some art gallery will manage to sell your feelings or thoughts.
Artists (painters, musicians, sculptures etc.) express themselves, and then look for someone to buy their ‘expressions’.

While on the other hand we as graphic designers get clients who employ us to communicate their message in a format that only we can, visually.

In almost all instances there need to be a ‘need’ for a certain message to be communicated, before a client employs a graphic designer.
So expressing yourself instead of the client will be ignoring the ‘need’, that made you ‘needed’ in the first place.

Shouldn’t graphic design be a sort of ‘behind the scenes’ type of profession? As like in photography, shouldn’t the subject/client message be in the spotlight NOT the photographer?

For as long as I’m doing design work for a client, I don’t see how I can possibly express myself through design/ing.

I did a logo design for Black On Black sometime last year, the client was very happy with the design, I personally love the logo – it might have been executed through a ‘minimal’ approach, which is my personal approach to design.
But the logo design says absolutely nothing about me and/or how I was feeling when designing it!

This is simply because I’m well aware that as a graphic designer, I’m paid to be the messenger not the message?

  • Aaron Houssian Said:

    Yes of course it should be about the message, but there are some of those primadonna designers who don’t know better.
    — On March 2nd, 2009 at 10:03 pm [permarlink]
  • Mokokoma Mokhonoana Said:

    Aaron Houssian,

    Welcome, I think ease of access to design softwares contributes a lot to cases where everybody is a ‘designer’, just because they can find their way around design applications.
    — On March 3rd, 2009 at 10:02 am [permarlink]
  • Dithapelo Kgonyane Said:

    I agree, it is sometimes the lack of understanding about who should benefit from the design. Clients would want to have e.g a business card with full of his/her information such as “who they are rather than what they do”, sometimes we as the customer are likely to be interested in what you do than what you are. It is the message that matters the most depending on what kind of services/product you offer.

    Sometimes we as the client compromise for cheap design of which will lead us to cheap communication.

    Good design needs passionate people in business.

    — On March 4th, 2009 at 8:38 pm [permarlink]
  • The Magic Wand doesn’t really make Graphic designers magicians - Mokokoma Mokhonoana Said:

    […] It is therefore a graphic designer’s mandate to use design to present and communicate the message at the best and most relevant way possible. If you buy a car, expect it to fly, and it […]
    — On March 1st, 2010 at 11:31 am [permarlink]
  • Between ethics and daily bread: A creative's moral dilemma Said:

    […] copywriters, and photographers. Regardless of how one decides to look at it, creatives are in the business of selling. Be it a product, service, idea, message, point of view or belief. The food chain financial chain […]
    — On March 10th, 2010 at 12:13 pm [permarlink]


With this writing I strive to initiate a dialogue, thus, sharing your points of view on this writing is encouraged and will be highly appreciated, whether it supports my points of view or it is of an opposing standpoint. I reserve the right to make adjustments to grammar and spelling mistakes, and to edit or delete comments that are offensive to any of the contributors of this writing.