PB article – Computer Arts

First published in Computer Arts Issue 249 February 2016


Designers: give in to your inner socialist.

A life less ordinary is what we’re all striving for. We want our working lives to be meaningful. As designers we are hard-wired to question, improve, refine, delight and surprise. Our work depends on idealistic and unorthodox thinking; future focussed, progressive ideas for the good of the majority.

These happen to be the tenets of left wing thinking. They’re also what design agencies look for in their employees and consequently what clients look for in us.

Design agencies with a social purpose, like the Netherlands group Total Design who strove for transparency, order and fairness, or France’s Grapus, with their commitment to the French Communist Party, now seem like throwbacks to another age. Never before has First Things First Manifesto 2000 https://www.adbusters.org/blogs/why-i-am-renewing-first-things-first-manifesto.html felt so prophetic: “Designers who devote their efforts primarily to advertising, marketing and brand development are supporting, and implicitly endorsing, a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact”.

So, in compromising our lefty ideals to enhance the profit margins of faceless corporates that need a ‘brand’ to make them human, are we all hypocrites?

It’s all very well being die hard. If we lived in a world populated by businesses that only did good, our work would only do good too. Great design comes from places that can afford to buy great talent, and they’re not always the most conscientious. The Sky brand identity is a good example – was there ever something so good designed for a corporation less worthy. (The Sky logo is the pinnacle of brand design. It’s infuriatingly good. It harks back to the fundamentals of branding – a branded piece of flesh. The logo owns every image it sits on top of, suggesting transparency and flux and can take on the form, chameleon like, of anything within its vicinity. It’s soft and curvy and non-threatening. The opposite of the brand.)

Running a thriving but small studio like ours, the question isn’t about feeling guilty in the face of market forces beyond our control, we’d drive ourselves crazy. Instead, we’re busy with the dichotomy of creating an atmosphere of creativity in a competitive and right leaning country.

We want the best talent and our inspiration for building the optimum environment for them to work comes from an unlikely but emerging place: the businesses around us. Working in London and being exposed to digital developers it’s fascinating to see how solutions and breakthroughs are made within a community: work is shared and problems are solved for the greater good. And that includes our clients. It couldn’t be further away from the image of a lone graphic designer, concealing their work until the last moment and grumbling about it being ruined by a marketing client who doesn’t understand the hidden reference to Permanent Revolution.

By following our noses and our consciences, we’re creating our own model. If socialism is a state that is for the good of the majority, then our company is socialism in practise.

Paul Blackburn Creative Consultant and Founder Paul’s career has spanned creatively directing a pan-European rebrand for Toyota, a new brand identity for Zaha Hadid, the development of a global communication platform for BASF crop protection, a global rebrand for software giants Sage and a strategic rebrand for the UK’s leading ticketing site Trainline.