Most of my experience with signs was spent in the small town of Natchitoches, Louisiana. Natchitoches has a really well defined historic district that operated under very strict guidelines. This forced me to keep the signs that I produced for businesses in that district small, clean and simple (a couple of examples to the left). I found it to be pretty easy and enjoyable. The signs were always crafted to harmonize with the landscape, yet still stand out and get the business noticed.
Once I made the jump from signs to ad agency I noticed a real change in the way I started designing. My work became busier and more cluttered. I added and added and added until every design was full. I learned a lot about my tools during this phase, but the longer I remained in the advertising industry, the more I realized that our profession was really adding to the clutter to the social landscape.
There is a real strong movement towards cleaning things up. You see it in the ultra slick, clean and functional designs of 2.0 websites. In slideware presentations the trend is to boil them down to 20 slides or less, most of them having less than 9 words each or no words at all.
We're bombarded with messages everyday, every direction, every medium. It's all just litter. Really. Mental clutter. Visual clutter. Audio clutter. Text clutter. There are just to many messages. On the flip, this clutter causes the human mind to focus in on things that are simple in image and in message. Just today I noticed an AIG ad in a magazine that I stopped on. Now, I have no particular interest in AIG, but out of all the pages in the magazine that ad was the only page that made me stop. Why? Because it had room to breath, a strong image and a simple message. Was it great? Not particularly. Did I stop? Absolutely.
So, here's my big struggle; how can I design advertising that is effective without adding to the clutter? I would love to design ads that are nice and clean, designs that compliment the landscape and still pack enough punch to get the message through. It's not an easy thing...at least not for me. I don't think I'm a smart enough designer.
But I'm going to try. I struggle with keeping my designs lean. I know that simple ads stand out in sharp, crisp contrast to the ultra jam packed. The AIG ad demonstrates that pretty clearly. But even knowing this, it is still hard to leave a design alone. There is that feeling that you just haven't done enough for your client if you don't add one more little thing.
Use this RIGHT NOW!
Get a copy of the Tao Te Ching (any copy will do), or check it out online. Read it from front to back. Put it away. Then, one day, pick it up and read it again. Pay particular attention to Chapter 22, which says:
"Have little and receive
Have much and be confused
Therefore the sages hold to the one as an example for the world
Without flaunting themselves – and so are seen clearly
Without presuming themselves – and so are distinguished
Without praising themselves – and so have merit
Without boasting about themselves – and so are lasting"