The other day I had an eye-opening experience that really made me consider the value of first impressions.
It happened at a local print shop while I was picking up a poster that I designed for a friend’s theater production. I was so excited to see my hours of work finally realized as a massive 40-by-60-inch color print. I rushed through the printer’s door and announced that I was there to pick up a poster.
“We’ve got two posters here. Is it the scientific one?” the printer asked.
My rebuttal was quick, “Um, no. It’s definitely not that.”
“It must be this two-color poster then. You requested it to be mounted on foam core, yeah?”
I assured him I hadn’t.
Well, it’s gotta be one of these, we both decided.
I glanced at the “scientific poster.” It was mine. I brushed off his casual observation as uninformed, thanked him for a job well done (it really did print beautifully) and made my way home, poster in hand.
Eager to check out the fruits of my labor, I started to unroll the poster as I waited for the train.
“Wow,” I thought. “It really does have a science-y vibe to it.”
A harshly lit photo of a rotten eggplant oozes onto the center of a white sheet of butcher’s paper. Stark, black typography and thin lines poke with precision and surround the vegetable on display. I imagined an autopsy—a dissection of some sort—taking place.
How could I ignore the obvious? Now it was easy for me to see why the printer made that comment.
Okay, so here’s the point: sometimes it’s hard for us designers/developers/copywriters to take a step back from a project we’ve been spending a lot of time on and evaluate it for what it really is.
Every so often, our project manager Fred will stop by my desk, look at my work, and bluntly exclaim, “It looks like a _________ (insert: spaceship, pizza, amorphous squiggle, etc.)!” This is usually not my intention, so at first, I’m frustrated. But Fred has something really valuable to offer in this situation: a fresh perspective.
At this point I typically concede to something like, “Okay, yeah, maybe these circles on this big triangle really do make this layout look like slice of pizza,” (I probably shouldn’t have worked through lunch that day) and try again. My work always ends up stronger as a result.
This kind of fresh perspective is extremely valuable when it comes to any kind of creative work. With a barrage of written/visual stimuli in our everyday lives, our audience often has only a few seconds to spend with an advertisement or a piece of print collateral before they move on; it’s first impressions here that really count. I’m lucky to be surrounded by a smart, diverse bunch of creatives who recognize this and tailor their constructive criticism to help me grow as a designer.
So thank you, Fred. Thank you, Mr. Printer. And thank you to everyone else who is willing to express their candid opinions. Keep ‘em coming.
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