The design privilege

Created by Ben De Rienzo
October 17, 2012

My three year old son will sometimes briefly wander away from his construction toys on the living room floor, see the design work I’ve got open in an Adobe application and ask me what I’m doing. The casual, sheepish, “Oh, just something I’m designing for someone” not deterrent enough, he will then climb up onto my lap, stare at the colorful screen and wait for a much more descriptive explanation that will satisfy his curiosity. Afterwards, the descension out of my lap is quick, usually followed by a gentle pleading for me to join him on the floor for a few minutes, which in toddler speak means I should be done with work for the day.

The latest occurrence of the sort last week got me reflecting on what I was doing, more-so, what I get to do everyday for a living. Elementally, it is a mixture of design, illustration, art direction, typography, photography, video—a creative package of skills I use to help someone communicate effectively. Working alongside someone to help them share a message and add life to their brand is humbling—this person is investing a lot of money, time and energy and trusting me and my team to present them in the best light for a certain period of time. Sometimes, this could be only for a short season or a promotional period, but, potentially it could be for decades or longer.

Earlier in my career, I was able to revitalize the brand for the city of Nashville, TN—The Music City—my home for a while. The previous logo hadn’t been touched for thirty years—so, the goal is to make ours last for at least that long. When I take a photographic image of someone or a product, that image will last for the life of the product or longer. In the case of a musician, that cover image I shot or designed becomes a part of a musician’s discography—the image will always be associated with this person’s career record. That’s a huge privilege and a reminder that what I do—the good, the bad, the rushed, spell-checked—is actually forever recorded in someone’s history. Yikes.

When I think about longevity and making impressions, what and how I work is critical. Just as important, I think, is _who _I get to create with or create for. If I really am making impressions with the potential to last hundreds of years and possibly be traced back to me in the future, I do care what messages I’m making and who I’m partnering up with. I feel really blessed that people I get to design for believe that what they are doing is changing the world in some way. From private universities raising up future leaders, to accomplished musicians donating their proceeds from a cd design to impoverished communities, to non-profits working hard to ending sex trafficking…and so many additional talented, motivated clients that I call friends.

Next time my son asks what I’m doing, maybe I’ll throw out a cheeky, “Oh, just changing the world.” He’ll probably give me his trademark scrunched-up, discrediting smile and laugh out, “Pssst, noooooo daddy. You’re so funny. Wanna play trains?”

The title image has examples of design from the past 130 years. Left to right: Italian Tourism Brochure cover from the 1930’s, 1900’s Ford logo, 1897 YMCA logo, WWI-era UK recruitment poster, and in the background, VOLVO 1800s Manual Cover.

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