Some time ago, Lifeblue decided to define the purpose of our organization and the work we do. Why? The way I see it, defining a purpose for your business gives the organization a common focus and goal. It becomes a rally cry and a clear target that everyone can aim for.
I also think of it as a the ultimate litmus test of accountability. Every decision made at every level - including those who you bring into the organization - should hold true and come back with positive results when tested against the purpose statement.
If you think about it, focusing in on your core purpose and articulating it in a simple and succinct statement is not an east task. But it's one worth doing.
We decided our purpose at Lifeblue is as follows: To save the world from bad design, one client at a time.
That's a BIG purpose! A LOT of things go into saving the world from bad design. Good design comes from the holistic effort of each member of the team and is not just a pleasant visual aesthetic; it is the essence and entirety of the designed product being useful, beautiful, easy to understand, functional, unobtrusive, etc. Then there's the "one client at a time" part…
Defining how we save the world from bad design, one client at a time, is not the purpose of this blog post, but I hope you can see how a well stated purpose statement says so much with saying so little, and that you have a basic idea of how useful a well-stated purpose can be.
At the same Lifeblue stated it's purpose, Shyam Patel, LB's Creatologist extraordinaire, challenged each one of us as individuals to define our purpose as craftsmen and professionals. I thought about this a lot, but I never seemed to be able to articulate my thoughts and feelings in a way that met the criteria for a purpose statement that was meaningful enough, useful enough, and diverse enough to cover the wide range of skills and scenarios I face everyday as a visual designer.
As a quick side to further explain the former statement, there seems to be little-to-no awareness or understanding outside of the industry of the bounds of craftsmanship and the breadth of skills that a good designer needs to possess in order to be good. Some of the attributes needed to be a lethal design ninja are these: strong right and left brain function (or being being able to be analytical and think critically, at the same time have creative and original thinking), the ability to see things objectively while being able to connect emotionally to your work and empathize with your audience, knowing the reasons behind your design decisions while at the same time being willing to let go and experiment, the ability to present your ideas to clients who don't speak the language of design and convince them why your ideas are worth all their money, that ability to compromise and play nicely with others, knowing when and how to say "no", diversity in visual styles, etc. I regress, but hopefully I've well made the point that visual design is not art in the sense that painting a pretty picture is art; it is a multidimensional skill and craft.
Back to the story - some time later after Shyam issued the challenge for us to state our own purpose, he sent me a link to a video completely unrelated to defining my personal purpose as a designer (link at bottom of the post).
In the video, ex chief of design for the BMW group, Chris Bangle, gives a Ted Talk about the art of automobiles. He talks about how the design of each car is painstakingly molded by hand by sculptors and artisans who have a true passion and love for their work. They create with the tension that exists between the need to express ideas and discover new things, and the rules and bounds of their craft, such as how to handle surfaces. He says, "That tension, that discovery, that push for something new, and at the same time that sense of obligation to regards of craftsmanship - that's as strong in cars as it is in anything."
If that is true for cars, then it is definitely true for graphic design - especially true for graphic design on the web where we deal with oodles and oodles of variables to design a product that meets the definition of "good." I - we - have to constantly struggle to find that perfect balance between pushing boundaries by doing work that leaves a memorable impression and at the same time meets strictly defined business objectives and user tasks…as well as functions beautifully in the medium of web wide-ranging web browsers.
Chris Bangle used the words "love" and "truth" a lot in his talk. As he talked about being "completely infected" by the love of design, creating by pressure within, and art being truth, and as I began to relate everything he was saying to my craft, the articulation of my personal purpose as a designer started to form in my mind. It's love and truth! Love and truth is the key to infinite potential. Yet, "love and truth" is not really a purpose statement so much as it is a philosophy or an idea
After some more pondering, I decided my purpose as a designer is to have love and truth be the foundation and motivation of my work. Doing this will insure that products I design will always be effective at making peoples' lives better.
Okay, maybe that's not as succinct as it could be, and maybe a little more indirect than the LB purpose. It's my personal purpose, so it only needs to be clear and understandable to me, but let me try to break it down and help make sense of it for you.
This is love: it's an unquenchable desire to create meaningful things, a creative gene that instinctually drives and pushes you to produce great work…because you just have to. It's the why behind the do - it motivates you to keep moving forward and pushing ahead. It picks you up, dusts you off, kisses your boo-boos, and places a band-aid on your wounds when you fall. It says its okay to take risks…and to sometimes fail. It builds confidence, makes work fun, enjoyable, fulfilling, interesting, satisfying, and meaningful. I design because I love good design.
This is truth: it never looses site of the problem to be solved, the goals to be accomplished, the results to achieve. It stays true to the time-tested principles of design, is in complete control of the elements of design, and uses the two harmoniously to create impact and action. It is weary of trends and knows when it's appropriate to use them. It knows "why" and says there must be deliberate reasons for the choices made in a design. It knows it's audience and speaks directly to them. It understands that good design is so much more than just a pleasing aesthetic. It knows that content is indeed king, and that content is not just a word document full of written copy, but the actual substance and essence of the whole of the product. It knows that design without content is nothing more than decoration.
Love and truth must coexist; there has to be a balance. One without the other will not achieve my purpose.
If you have only love, you can become emotionally blinded and irrational. Your inhibitions can become dangerously low; you can become moody, manic, depressed. Think of a teenage crush gone crazy. Think of the high and bliss you feel from reciprocated true love. It those times, we can loose touch of reality and make poor choices…and all good design must be grounded in reality, or, the truth. Yet, life without love is nothing. We actually need it to survive.
If you have only the truth, you can be cold and stale; you will lack an emotional connection or response. You will see things in terms of black and white absolutes. Truth alone doesn't care or have empathy - it is only concerned with facts. It just wants to get the job done. Truth alone lacks passion. If we design with only truth, our products are meaningless. Yet, we need the truth for our products to be useful and purposeful.
If love and truth are balanced in perfect harmony, there is infinite potential to how great the outcome of our work can be. It is my purpose - as a designer and as a human being - to let those two principles be the motivation and foundation of all I do. Doing this will insure that my design work (and my life) will always be effective at making peoples' lives better.
So, what's your purpose?
Oh yeah, here's the link the the Chris Bangle Ted Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_bangle_says_great_cars_are_art.html