Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Making the World More Beautiful

Sara Jamil reflects on the gifts that graphic design brings into our worlds.
Published 28 Oct, 2023 01:14pm

I designed my first business card as a graphic designer in 1999. Even then, a time steeped in the classic agency culture and Mad Men-like politics, I struggled with what title to give myself. I wanted one that would encompass all that graphic design stood for and applied to. Twenty-five years later, as robots start taking over my expertise, inserting doubt in the existence of my own worth, I remain just as stumped regarding encapsulating all I do, despite having a portfolio that spans concept development, strategy, visual and UI design.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to make a presentation to a bunch of budding communication design students and talk about the less travelled path I have taken with my work. I was nervous in the way only someone with acute Graphic Designer Imposter Syndrome can be. In a room full of Canva-savvy Gen Zers, my own roster of design experience felt dated, and my role rather dead compared to what an app can do in less than one-tenth the time.

Like any craft that has to keep up with rapid changes, the role of graphic design is also worth examining, unpacking and redefining. Have we forgotten the basic core of where it started? Or lost track of how ‘graphic design’ has birthed a multitude of careers? As someone plugged into the chatter around design, I heard the whisperings about the impending demise of graphic design become louder as the titles became, at the same time, more expansive and specific.

The desire to define particular talents under the broad framework of graphic design has become the need of the hour, especially as free software, apps, downloadable vectors and more accessible tech make their way into design circles. It certainly seems as if everyone can equip themselves with a template and a title – leading to market saturation in terms of graphic design expertise. As somewhat of a purist, I have held on to the mast of the graphic design sail, although I am perhaps one of a diminishing pool of people that still believes that the role of the graphic designer in human form will continue to stand its ground, and even flourish.

Today, graphic design transcends digital as well as social and aesthetic innovation, proving once again that a world without it would be far less beautiful.

Saul Bass, arguably one of the top graphic designers of this era, said: “Design is thinking made visual,” and as the world hurtles towards a place where man and AI are competing neck-to-neck, it may bode well to remember to whom this art of “thinking” originally belongs and emanates from.

Graphic design involves critical thinking, creativity as well as the ability to understand and visually share nuanced, complex messages. Skill and intuition remain at the forefront of the exercise, more so in a world where the message has to cut through the clutter and remain easy to process. In this respect, if led by design thinking, AI can help, and which is why many graphic designers are incorporating AI tools into their workflows to enhance their productivity and explore possibilities that will complement and augment their abilities.

A few years ago, I attended a design conference in Islamabad and had the opportunity to meet Stefan Sagmeister, whose talk Happiness by Design played a key role in the development of my own design sensibility – and it was something he said in his talk, about our jobs as designers being to make the world a more beautiful place, that lit up all kinds of neurons in me, piquing my interest into why our brains respond better when we see aesthetically sound solutions. This led me to taking a deep dive into reading more about why good design and graphics are a positive stimulus and down the rabbit hole of neuroscience and to the exploratory works of Donald Norman, an American researcher known for his book The Design of Everyday Things. In the book, Norman writes that when we look at something pleasing, our brain shifts into “positive effect,” which is connected to the release of endorphins. Norman’s research looked at the way problem-solving and emotions are connected and how the “right” or “wrong” set of feelings (in response to visual or external stimuli) changes our cognitive system, either by revving it up or slowing it down. We see this in our daily life when the more anxious we are, the less successful we become in engaging productively with our environment.

Norman writes: “Attractive things make people feel good, which in turn allows neurons to fire better and thought processes to improve.” As many studies on the subject have put forth, the act of making a decision is emotional, regardless of whether we choose to make it consciously or subconsciously. Our responses to our environment can be complex and determining in how we react to what we experience, and given the increasingly chaotic nature of our lives, we need appealing solutions to thrive and live meaningful lives.

Graphic design, once the foundation of a rather structured career path, started out as a powerful but simple medium. However, with the growth of technological advances, graphic design has had to grow many tentacles in order to reach out to a future that encompasses entire universes of visual communication and which include media, education and culture. Today, graphic design transcends digital as well as social and aesthetic innovation, proving once again that a world without it would be far less beautiful.

Sara Jamil is a freelance designer and currently teaches typography at IVS.