Treatment is King
Vanity Fair and Iran-Contra II

Treatment is King Part II

In the comments, a student of mine raises a question about the statement of designers inability to generate content. Instead of burying my reply in the comments, here is it front and center.

Hi Leilah,

You seem to miss an essence of my point, which is that to apply a treatment to content is not decoration but rather the act of aligning the content to its proper form, which is not the same as generating the content itself like in a Word document.  Yes, there is visual content, but most of my projects have to do with words.

In the projects I've worked on, I define the essence of the experience, write the words to describe it, and often do the information architecture. The designers with whom I collaborate seek to understand and interpret that content, then align it to its appropriate form from an inappropriate form (ie. the Word document). To align content with form is not the same as generating the content nor is it mere decoration. It is just a different phase in the designing process, which in most cases is not the task required of the professional designer because the client provides the content (it's products, it's history, it's brand essence). The client  just don't know what form best expresses it, which is the work of the graphic designer.

I am clear about the fact that I work on highly complex information-rich projects that require in depth research to understand what the content is. In my experience, when I have offered designers the opportunity to create the content (what should be the words said here), they have been unable to do so because they lacked the contextual expertise to know what mattered in that experience and how to describe it in words.

Again, there are "designers as authors" who seek to provide the content as well as the form. Stefan Sagmeister is a good example. But he also doesn't do the type of design I would be engaged to work on. I work  now and in the past with all types of designers, who perhaps are (1) students and thus struggle with the generation of content, (2) can produce content, but are really only interested in the aligning the form part of the process, or (3)can neither write or produce images, but can arrange them in ways that reveal the essence of the content. And more rarely, a bad designer who know nothing about form.

Sometimes it is frustrating for me, because I don't always have time to generate the content, so it would be great to have a designer who can do it when I am trying to juggle something else. And the caveat is that the content they generate has to be as good as something I would generate. But the truth of the matter is, I do "content "extremely well and the designers with whom I work  best are always in the second group -- people who understand how to generate content, so that they respect the craft of doing so, but prefer to do the form work (which I cannot do as well). This makes it an effective collaboration.

I know graphic design in all its many forms and embrace its potentialities. I even train students to advance its potentialities. But as I stated to others before, the value add of any designer to me is their ability to give meaningful form to content. The meaninfulness refers to understanding the context over time, and thus allowing the form to resonate. But really the designer has no control over context or time, they are or ought to be masters form first to be a designer. The rest is even more value-add.

Form is not decoration, but it is not content either. I just wish sometimes that designers actually valued what they do so well. Then these movements into other areas would seem less like overcompensation for some lack. What I appreciated about Micheal Rock is that he is proud of being a designer, in perhaps what may seem to be its most limited manifestation of giving form to client's content. And the content is not just the words for the Guilt label, but rather the essence of the luxury shopping and owning experience of Prada.

Purifying water is a treatment which removes the impurity of extraneous matter so that you can get to the essence of H2O + electrolytes. Graphic design is a treatment with removes extraneous matter so that you can get to the essence of the content. Neither types of treatment do I confuse with decoration. But hey, what is wrong with decoration?



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