Anonymity in Graphic Design. Is it such a good thing?

One thing I find interesting about graphic design is the fact that design agencies never put their own brand on their work.

What I mean by this is that you cannot pick up a bottle or a box of cereal or pretty much any other product of a graphic designer and find out which designer or design agency did it. Luckily, nowadays a simple internet search can quite often unearth who was responsible, but before the internet I would imagine finding out which company designed a certain logo would be a very difficult and laborious task.

It seems odd to me that an industry that revolves around brands very rarely use their own. This is not to say design agencies do not have an identity, they very definitely do and this often comes out through mailers or self promotional materials, but there is something modest about design. A kind of satisfaction gained through anonymity perhaps. I think designers quite enjoy the vaguely altruistic feelings of making the world look better without any real credit outside of the graphic design world.

As the genius that is Eric Spiekermann explains in the extras of Helvetica the Movie, he likes being “the unknown designer. [he] designed the signage for the underground […] you wouldn’t know, you’re not supposed to know.[…] it doesn’t say designed by Spiekermann, that would be horrible.” Although Spiekermann doesn’t put it down to modesty, so maybe instead it is a kind of ‘graphic design superiority’ to know who has designed something? I’m not entirely sure for the reasoning and I’m also not entirely sure it’s a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that the design agency’s brand should even begin to compete with the client’s. But I do think this anonymity of design has brought with it several negative byproducts.

Firstly, I think it can lead to lazy graphic design. If people do not think a design can be held accountable to them then they may start to cut corners, to neglect details or simply to have a ‘that’ll do’ attitude. However, if your name was displayed next to your design perhaps more care would be taken? I don’t think this applies so much to big design agencies, as their fresh designs are often documented and analysed, but the amount of badly designed flyers and business cards around could perhaps be reduced by this accountability.

Secondly I think it brings about this idea that everybody is a designer. If people are ignorant of the design industry generally then I think it would be very easy to assume that design is a simple thing to do. Everybody has Microsoft word, everybody has clipart, hey presto, everyone can produce shoddy graphic design! If design agencies started putting their names into public domain then people may start to realise there’s more to this design lark than 30 multicoloured typefaces at various angles on a sheet of a4 paper.

This leads me nicely on to my final point that there is a lack of interest surrounding design. I have very rarely heard a non graphic designer ever remark on gorgeous kerning, a beautiful typeface, or even a nice piece of packaging. I saw a disastrous sign for “the sign shop” the other day and on pointing it out and remarking on the irony of this, my flatmates just laughed at me and didn’t see what was wrong with it! (It was practically in papyrus for goodness sake!)

So could these things be combatted by design agencies branding their work? I’m not sure. But I find it interesting that it has never been tried out.

For all of your patience here’s a nice picture of some J2O bottles:

j2o bottle design

These are the reason I started this post as I have liked the branding and identity for a long time, but it was only yesterday that I discovered it was the work of jkr after a talk by Ian Ritchie, the executive creative director of the agency.

A few disclaimers:

There are various logistical flaws as to how to put your design agency’s brand onto a company’s logo or a typeface for example, but this is primarily aimed at packaging or literature design.

I also have a vague recollection of one design agency branding their work but, ironically, can’t seem to find out who or whether it was with success, so if you happen to know please let me know!

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3 thoughts on “Anonymity in Graphic Design. Is it such a good thing?

  1. Designer love publicity, that’s why they put their work on their websites, in publications and enter awards. Even now after working for 30 years in the business I still get a buzz from seeing my companies work on the shelf and telling people “I did that”. I think that given the opportunity most designers would have their name (and lots of other details) printed on any work they design. However this is unlikely as clients pay designers to produce designs to sell their products, not to promote the designers they have paid. Indeed it is written into several of our client contracts that we aren’t even allowed to tell anybody that we work for them, let alone promote ourselves on their work!

    1. When I was writing this it didn’t enter my head at all that this would be the preference of the client and not the designer! Thank you for solving this life-long conundrum! (I’m also pretty sure that I’ve broken arguably the most fundamental point of graphic design – to think of the client first!)

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