Meaningful isn’t a look or feel. It’s not a type treatment or a particularly sensitive-looking, tracked-out serif typeface. It’s not a “nostalgia” lighting effect. Meaning in visual design isn’t added later like a pinch of salt. A meaningful design begins before any sketch or illustrator doc is created. It’s already there, waiting to be brought to life.
What do you mean by meaningful visual design?
For those who love acronyms as much as graphic design, MVD is equally about form, aesthetics and the big Why: why did someone spend time on this? To be clear: I’m not talking about a product for a social cause client. I’m talking about a holistic approach; the presence of meaning in daily design decisions; a joining of intention and execution. How well does the end product compliment the reason-for-being, the big Why?
Meaningful also doesn’t denote superiority or an ideal. Audiences can be fickle; people will throw away a flatteringly form-fitting piece of MVD in favor of the season’s hottest drapey smock. So we must consider MVD in the context of a mantra like ‘do what you love/love what you do’. As a piece of design, it’s for them, but before it gets there it’s gotta be for us.
In his Webstock ‘13 speech How Designers Destroyed the World, the Loraxian Mike Monteiro puts it simply—“be intentional in your actions”; and then dramatically—“a designer that creates things they don’t care about is like a chef that would serve you rancid food.” His speech is about being aware of and personally responsible for the impact of our work on a global scale.
I’d like to funnel that message into the area that needs it most: the daily grind. Every working designer will experience this in one form or another and have the important choice to stay engaged or check out. At Barrel, we actively try to elevate the ol’ day-to-day and work from a place of deep authenticity. Our practice of MVD is a process guided by the following principles:
How has Barrel practiced MVD?
I’ve chosen our internal projects because they’ve impacted more than just members of our team—new hires and clients have connected with them as well, helping us to forge significant ongoing relationships. Here is a selection of internal projects that exemplify MVD:
How can I practice MVD?
The practice of meaningful visual design rewards the naturally curious. Typefaces have origin stories, voices, and a sociopolitical context; colors have psychology and history; a medium is a message. This is good news! If you’re ready to look for inspiration, there’s plenty to find! Here are some thoughts to guide you as you begin to imagine your daily grind as an opportunity to dig deeper:
Keep it simple.
Meaningful doesn’t necessitate a long, convoluted explanation. It’s more about being honest. Sometimes our reasons for doing things can be so obvious, it’s a little embarrassing. But it’s actually OK! Learn to relish this, not reject it.
Get into it.
If you don’t have any connection to the subject and no desire to learn more, your output will be undoubtedly superficial. You won’t enjoy the work hours or be proud of the result. It’s very important (to both you and your company) not to kid yourself here.
Dive in, reflect, and trust your gut.
Need I say more?
MVD is a way to frame design decisions. Everything from typography to time spent can be run through the “why” filter. Not to make things more complicated, but to make things easier, more enjoyable and…meaningful.