by Prof. Andrew Overn
The Power of Graphic Design.
Design may be most basically defined as the process of giving meaning to an image. A potential work of “Art” (with a capital “A”) is distinguished from mere decoration through design — the application of meaning. Likewise, graphic designers and their clients spend a great deal of time and money in the attempt to introduce meaning into magazine layouts, advertisements, and even the lowliest logo or candy wrapper. Even if their efforts are largely unnoticed, this time and money is still seen as well spent. Why is this so?
There is a great deal that may be said about an organization using a purely visual vocabulary. People respond to non-verbal, visual messages immediately (as evidenced perhaps by their reactions towards certain types of artwork). Designers and artists realize this and go to great lengths in order to tap into the visual cliches and their corresponding conceptual commonalities that we all share.
There is power in good design. Sometimes its persuasive power is overt, but more often it is quite subtle, affecting our decisions and perceptions almost without our knowledge. In fact, the best design may be described as transparent, that is, it delivers its intended message without attracting conscious attention to its own appearance.
It is well known that advertising has a great effect on consumer choices, and design is a major component in those efforts. But beyond advertising or simple publicity, design determines how the public receives every document disseminated by an organization. From brochures and advertisements to web sites, these documents form the public face of an institution. In a certain sense, they become that institution in the public mind.
But more important than mere identification, it is the perceived credibility of an organization that makes good design critical. Whether it’s used in support of a particular restaurant, corporation, or even political candidate, design affects the public perception of an organization’s credibility to a great degree.
Designers are also quite aware of the influence they can wield. Consider a recent article in Communication Arts magazine entitled “Mapping Power; Using Design to Get Where We Want to Go.” In it, John Emerson, a design consultant and activist in New York City, makes the following assertion: “Graphic Design as an advocacy tool doesn’t just interpret or help us navigate the world. It seeks to actively intervene in it, to take sides and make change in the world – envisioning a better world and bringing people together, it helps create it.”
It seems obvious that designers are quite capable of presenting their work from a specific editorial point of view. While design is most often enlisted to enlighten and educate (textbooks, brochures, magazines), it can also be used to obscure the truth. Propaganda can take many forms, and even credit card applications and the way in which statistical information is sometimes displayed are proof that design, like writing, can mislead as well as inform. Graphic design, like any persuasive agent, also brings certain ethical considerations. The world needs more Christian artists.
For our efforts in Gospel outreach to be received as credible by a sophisticated, mass media audience, it is essential that consideration be given to design during all phases of production. This implies more than a simple investment in technology. While it is true that technology and graphic design go hand-in-hand, it must be remembered that a computer is only as good as its user. The primary purpose of the Bethany design program is to enable Christians to participate in this field with skill and sophistication. These individuals should be sought out and valued for the essential elements they can bring to bear on the work being discussed with regard to the Christ in Media Institute. That is, they facilitate communication, help to raise public awareness, and most of all, they bring the perception of credibility.
There is power in graphic design. An audience will respond immediately to a given product or organization, even with no specific knowledge of the subject. Indeed, when evaluating the worth of a product, we often have no data on which to depend other than the design and conceptual approach of its advertising. A picture — or better still a good illustration — truly is worth a thousand words. Design should not be overlooked or seen as something to tack on to the tail end of a project, but as an integral part of any project targeting the general public.