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mad-men-silouhette“He’s pictures, he’s words” the client offers as an executive summary of the service provided by the two ad agency representatives sitting in the office of London Fog’s owner.

This scene from the TV series “Mad Men” sums up in brief the notion most people hold of design. Pictures. Words. Artifice.

It’s the early 60’s. The owner’s son speaks up.

“My father’s anxious about the business, he’s afraid everyone who needs a raincoat has one. Maybe we should get into hats and umbrellas” he suggests.

The ad man pauses, then says, “London Fog is a brand that has been around for forty years, but sounds like its been here a hundred. There will be lean years. There will be good years. But it will always rain.” They own the market (and still do!).

There it is. The piece most miss. True design begins with insight.

Talk with any good designer and sooner or later you will hear that lament. People think design is making it look good. I think most people know better than that, and would quickly add that good design also means making something that works well too.

But great design, the kind that every good designer comes to work each day hoping to do, begins with a desire to form a fundamental understanding of the problem. We begin seeking insight.

As my friend, the design and brand consultant Mitch Anthony often recalls “People come to me and say: we need a brochure,” to which he responds, “how do you know you need a brochure?” Hmmm.

I could say the same. People call to say they need an addition. Before we go any further I want to reveal why they have assumed that solution. My guess is that there are going to be a few answers that look nothing like an addition. Perhaps we can solve the problem in the space that already exists! I’m seeking insight.

Design is a remarkable discipline. Pursued with deliberation and executed with skill, that insight we seek provides the foundation for the workings of the solution, to which we might then apply pictures and words. Or perhaps cherry with oil rubbed bronze knobs.

Ornamental. And fundamental.

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