I’ve never worked with a creative director before — at least not in the traditional sense — and have found this to be a fascinating yet also frustrating experience; for the first time in my career I’ve not the been the arbiter of good taste.
This situation might have been different if our creative instincts were aligned, but that has rarely been the case. When reviewing a design, sometimes I would be asked to position an element uncomfortably close to the edge of a container, or use heavier or larger type. And yet weeks later, when faced with a design that was the accumulation of decisions I hadn’t agreed with, I’d find myself content with the result, my eye no longer drawn to what I previously found unsightly.
I’ve sometimes felt the same when looking at other people’s work. On seeing the first screenshots of iOS7, I recoiled at its flatness, the plainness of its typography, and those icons! But today I use my iPhone without taking much notice of this revised aesthetic. Was I too quick to judge, or have I simply grown used to those changes?
Of course, what constitutes good design is entirely subjective. Who is to say my judgements are better than those of another designer? Regardless of the decisions made internally, users of the product will no doubt have their own thoughts, too.
I’ve come to believe that good design is ultimately about a consistency of execution, but great design requires something else: bravery. A willingness to make decisions that push beyond the boundaries of contemporary taste. Thinking of breakthrough products — the original iMac with it’s bulbous Bondi-blue case, the Ford Sierra’s aerodynamic styling, the minimalistic interface of Windows Phone 7 — each was the result of decisions taken against the grain. Thinking back to those design reviews, perhaps I was witness to acts of similar importance, a participant in the continual refinement of prevailing fashion.
My year at the Guardian has taught me many things, but foremost is having the confidence to make braver choices. This year, should I find myself awkwardly positioning elements within a composition, I will try living with that decision for a few days rather than a few seconds.