Appropriateness: Creativity in Graphic Design is Different

My earliest memory of design school is being told by my tutor Chris Gibson that creativity cannot exist without boundaries. Without boundaries a piece of work is not creative because in a boundary free environment anything was just as good as something else. Until then I had always assumed that creativity was all about originality. Fitting boundaries is about being appropriate.

We can resolve these two differences in defining creativity. Consider that creativity is both comprised of both originality and appropriateness. Most creative endeavors (such as the fine arts) value originality above appropriateness. Graphic design values appropriateness above originality. One is not totally without the other in practice; there are expectations on what is appropriate in art and expectations of originality in design. In fact, there are legal minimums (copyright) and cultural expectations (copycat) that suggest a certain level of originality is required in all graphic design.

The systematic tradition of graphic design education emphasizes the design process. This is because the design process gives multiple opportunities to evaluate the appropriateness of proposed solutions against boundaries in order to improve the appropriateness over time. Fine Art approaches to teaching emphasize originality – finding your own voice, uniqueness and inspiration.

Fully understanding the real constraints that affect the appropriateness of a piece of work is the foundation of successful graphic design works. Some boundaries are concrete and easy to quantify e.g. budget and deadline. Many boundaries are not that obvious and can only be discovered by considering the message, media, target audience and client. This tells us that that appropriateness is specific to culture and not just the physical constraints of the world.

The over-riding consideration of appropriateness in graphic design is that a message is understood with maximum clarity by a target audience. All other appropriateness considerations should be secondary.