Corporate Graphic Design as Art

design, inspirational people

I have always had a bit of conflict over the difference between corporate graphic design and fine art. I come from the land of design where “graphic design” is considered a BFA/MFA option, a fine art. A lot of higher ed institutions still consider the graphic arts to be more of an IT/infotech option or it falls under Mass Communication/PR. I’m lucky enough to have had a very well rounded art education, where we had to learn the fine art by hand before we could move into the graphic art on the computer. To me, this gives the student a really tight background in what makes up a work of art – the color, line structure, positive and negative space relations and balance and symmetry. This process makes the student take a lot of responsibility for things the computer can do for them. The transition to the computer art world from the by-hand world doesn’t lose the artists voice. I know a lot of people probably have a different opinion, but I think this approach really spoke to me as a young student.

That being said, I also heard a lot of people talking about “selling out” and “going corporate” instead of staying true to their personal artistic cause. Personally, I have always loved corporate design – especially logos. I love logos. I want a t-shirt that says that. My dream t-shirt would be a white tee with shiny white logos quietly hidden in the fabric and a “I heart NY” style line about loving logos on it. Love.

I digress, my newest wish list item on Amazon is the book about the Chermayeff & Geismar logos and identity systems. Those guys are brilliant and if you haven’t heard their names, you’re missing out. Well, not really. In fact, you’ve been bombarded by their identity systems for a vast majority of your lives and you may not have even known it. Check out the book here and the designers here.

Corporate identities are really unique and, in many ways, much harder to work with than any personal project you could come up with. The designer generally comes from the outside and looks in, using market research and word-of-mouth to become involved with the company. I think the designers behind these logos and systems deserve a lot more credit than they get in a lot of creative circles. Designers have to find a way to successfully communicate the ideals and vision of an entire company. They have to be able to create one mark to effectively sum up the mission of a company (a group of individuals all working together toward a goal) and reflect the feelings about the company from the clients’ perspective. I have heard that a company’s brand is really nothing more than how the company is perceived by an outsider – and a logo should reflect the brand. No logo can create a brand, but that’s a blog for another day.

But what makes it art? I think it’s really similar to what makes a great painting “art” and what makes a beautiful song “art.” It’s the feeling the audience gets when it encounters the end product. If you can imagine some of the most viewed (and lasting) logos of our time, Apple, Ford, Lego, Quaker Oats (and on and on…) you can probably tie a feeling or emotion to each one. Think about it awhile, see what you can come up with. I think the art of it is that it makes you feel at all. No one ever said art had to make you feel good… oil spills anyone?

Shameless self-promotion time: I’m working on an identity system for my husband’s up-and-coming auto business. We’re pretty excited about both the business and the logo. Shout out to Iconian Fonts for the use of “dodger.”

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