Is Originality Necessary In Graphic Design Today?

This interesting question was posed to me via email from Nicola Robinson, a student who had stumbled across this site. I thought it was worth putting my views down and then seeing what everybody else thought.

Originality in a Visual Sense

I think people get confused between art and design. Art is a personal expression of something and doesn't have to have a purpose at all - other than to express that personal view. Design on the other hand is purposeful. Ultimately we design for other people, not to express what we, ourselves feel. We design for these people so they can make money. We have to play the mediator between the client and their consumers, using our skills in the best possible way to communicate the messages that will help sell products or services.

The point is this - if we are too original in our work a) our clients won't buy it and b) if our clients did buy it their consumers won't buy it. The end result is no money and no clients.

However again if we simply copy styles then we will then be done for stealing - again the end result is not good. Mike Davidson has an interesting post on this written in 2005 called Originality in Logo Design. His article highlights the issues of attempting to be original in logo design and it seems to me, he eventually comes to the conclusion that it is virtually impossible to be completely original in a design.

So my view on this is that as a designer you need to stay up to date with current trends. You need to understand what is generally acceptable and what has been done before. Within these boundaries (which you can push from time to time) you make a stab at a design. I always bear the end consumer in mind and have had to admit that sometimes radical designs do not always fit the brief. Everything should have a purpose behind it - we are designers not artists.

Originality in a Conceptual Sense

The place where one can be completely original is in the concept behind the design. What I'm talking about here is the reasoning behind shooting 'that image' in 'that way'. The reason behind using 'that graphic' or 'this wording'. Basically the reason behind communicating the key messages visually and how to accomplish that. For example take a look at this for a concept from Yo Brands USA. The styling has been done before many times but the concept is what makes this site communicate its key selling points. It is original and effective. Also read this article The Rise of the Design Concept. The styling of the websites in the article is nothing new - but the concepts are.

This area is, in my view, what makes a great designer. Communicating on a deep level with your audience. Keep the style simple but the concept clever and you'll be a winner.

A Few Last Words...

I think that to be effective in communicating an idea to an end consumer, only about 30% is style and the rest is concept. A concept can go in deeper than a fancy image. You can make things way more memorable with a good combination of the two things rather than an emphasis on style. Don't get me wrong, the style is still important as it sets the tone for the concept and helps to bring relvance and comfort to the viewer but to stand out from the crowd the concept needs to be king.
Anybody any thoughts on this? Please leave a comment below...


First I must say I agree with your overall point.

But you mentioned that Yo Brands site as a joke, right?

Damn, you are younger than I am!

@ Von, No, no joke - I was simply using this as an example of how that a common design style has been applied to a original design concept. Do you have another example?

@ Quakeulf, What's your view on the article. I feel my age is really irrelevant.

Well, i agree with you completely there Matt. Designers are designers for thier asiprations and overall feelings whilst designing, but it cant clash with the concepts of "art" as most people on average know it. If a design is too "your own" style for another company, only people "like you" will find it appealing, that is, if the company likes it. When a request is given, you should follow the request as it is written, almost like a guide. Obviously, if an idea isnt expressed fully, your own concept could be put in and that extra little "touch" into the work could give it its uniqueness and orginality. So i have an overall agreement with you Matt, and good arguement!

Luke, I'm not just saying that when a request is given it should be absolutely followed. If it is detrimental o the client then I feel that it would be my duty to inform them. Hopefully the client will trust you enough to take the view on board. What I'm talking about is that a design is made by an idea or theme which communicates the key messages. This idea is where a designer can be original and not so much in the style as at least 50% of a style will most probably be inspired from somewhere else so that people can associate with it.

I enjoy the article, and must say I agree with most, but you should perhaps not pretend to know what art is or isn't. Stick to design, its clear to see that its an area you have free rain. But rather not go as far as claiming that art has no purpose. It is after all the social backbone of society, it drives us all even design.

I love the website. I love your work,its inspiring and hell I might even copy it a bit.

Keep up the stunning work

Werner, I take your point. I merely meant that it was the artists personal purpose (eg it is only what they themselves wish to portray). Whither its a view of sociality, a feeling they have or an expression they want to omit. As a designer we have to look at what our clients want to say not what we ourselves necessarily want to say. That's the difference.

Was just pulling your p
What I was saying is great work man!


No worried buddy. I don't pretend I'm always right so if anybody has a different opinion I always like to hear it! Thanks for the support...

Matt Davies:

Well, I was just saddened by my lack of accomplishments for my age. I am actually born the same year as you.

I do agree with the article, but there will always be those who lead the trends, those who follows, and those who fall out or outweirds themselves.

Which part do you play?

I agree with all of these comments, but can I just ask; Does anyone think it is wrong to copy from the past??

wow this is taking me to the next level and is making me look at design differently, i just thought being different is all it takes and that puts you on a greater stand. trust me i'm going to read this a few more times. i rate weekly!i'm busy on a history project, and my whole aim when it comes to design is evolution of design and focusing on trends in design. thanks for this i'm going to rewrite my essay. powerfull words i must add