Transposition and Conversion

One of the skills that designers and clients need, which is not readily apparent, is the ability to transpose and convert language. It is the designers job to lead the way on this, especially if the client is “green.” What I mean is this:

Clients typically have a good eye. Most people do. We have all seen the best of graphic design. We have seen great film and photography. We know good when we see it. Designers spend years in research and practice learning a language to describe all of this. We learn genre and style, history and progression. We have word for things like “Swiss-Style,” or “Russian Constructivism,” a couple of my favorite styles and periods of graphic design. We also learn and know words for shapes, geometry, mathematics and more. We learn an entire syntax built around describing visual information and how it is perceived.

The consumer of design doesn’t typically have this level of knowledge around what they consume. They don’t know that letters need to be 6 inches tall to be read by more than 80% of the population at one hundred feet while moving in a car. They don’t know that circles communicate unity and wholeness and squares create confining spaces and division.

The point is, we have separate languages for looking at the same thing. The best designers and clients spend the most time transposing the languages and making sure that what is described from both parties is actually in alignment. A client might say something vague and generic like, “Can you make this poster look bolder?” What they mean is, that  they don’t like the page laid out on a white back ground and they want more texture and color added to the entire page.

A designer would say the opposite. Adding texture and color will make the graphics and text “less bold,” by decreasing contrast. The boldest you can be is stark, thick, black lines on lots of negative white space, or better yet, A red circle on a white page with white type in the circle. That’s bold. Every gradation away from that we get, we lose contrast and boldness. What the client is talking about is look and feel, not boldness and contrast. It takes a skilled designer to ask the right questions at this point to get to the bottom of what the client really means so that the designer can create the right thing, in the right style, for the right reasons.

One of the questions I find very helpful at this point is “What is it for?” If we ask this question, we can usually come up with the kernel of purpose. If the purpose of the poster is to look super cool, then adding a lot of detail and color and texture is likely to be useful. If the purpose is to make a lot of text very legible and readable, then we need good hierarchy with clean easy to read type and no details to distract from the information. Of course, this is a spectrum and we need to understand where in the spectrum we sit, as well as the genre and style we need to execute in this spectrum.

This exercise takes an abundant amount of communication and defining terms through transposition and conversion of meaning. Whether you are the designer or the client, or both, take the time to slow down and ask questions. The right questions will get your language straight and if you can clearly describe it with words so anyone can understand it, you can sketch it out. If you can sketch it, you can make it. So get to work!!! :D

I hope you have as much fun diving in to this with your coworkers and clients as I do.

Peace, Love and Rock’n’Roll

Jesse Barney

February 11, 2020