Architecture and graphic design are creative fields with a common conundrum. At the end of the project, the client moves in.
This thought was with me on a recent trip to Rochester, NY to visit a building by architect Louis Kahn. Kahn is famous for his bold juxtaposition of space and mass, achieving constructions of monumental presence.
The First Unitarian Church in Rochester is monolithic and heavy, like his other structures. Thick concrete walls set off columns of light that beam down from overhead windows.
But while the execution is classic “Kahn,” the experience is entirely different. Visitors are greeted by a bulletin board of news clippings and flyers about the community. A wall of nametags is a cacophony of colors and fonts. Attending a service on Sunday, a sermon on the topic of “play” was illustrated by the release of hundreds of brightly colored balloons onto the congregation.
This all would probably have raised the ire of Kahn, but there is no denying that the building has been embraced by its inhabitants. They have adopted it and made it their own. Although it is expressed by drilling coat racks into the walls and hanging children’s murals throughout the hallways, the congregation is incredibly proud of their famous landmark.
In graphic design, the act of handing over artwork can provoke anxiety. Will the client ignore the design guidelines? Will they add their own colors to the palette and slap a “new” violator over the packaging? Maybe.
Great design, like great architecture, can inspire pride in those who commission it. And it is not always expressed in ways that the designers intend. But if we’ve done our job as a creative agency understanding the client’s needs and delivering a product that meets them, then it no longer belongs to us. It is theirs to move into.