The Purpose of Design is to Tell the Truth*

Design is the alliance of strategy and creativity: two principles that when added together multiply. Human beings have always visioned, dreamt and reached beyond who and where we are in the moment. We’re not happy in the current reality we’ve designed. Why not be happy? Let’s redesign this mess we’ve created. Like everything else we’ve ever done, we can invent something else. Design thinking is whole thinking. It adds depth to the sequential equation by allowing more participation, more organic emergence, more truth.

Nature is where truth is sourced. Nature has no capacity for deceit. As a product of nature, creating relationships through authenticity is the natural human state. Because nature is our first language, and all humans experience living in existentially the same way, applying a basic principle or form from nature to the visual message creates a deeper relationship with the audience. Nature’s language aligns with our senses and experience because it is our sense of experience. For example, curves are always a continuous line, while angles are always a measurable one. Broadly speaking in the context of logos, my primary area of design, service-oriented non-profits tend towards curves (as a continuum of support), while the financial industry tends towards measurably finite angles (think of almost any banking logo and how the visual template correlates their purpose of measuring money). Designing in this way helps to sort and organize information at the most fundamental level for the viewer by providing the “immediate language” of the message; its body language. This makes or breaks the message at the moment of introduction. If you don’t make the cut there the design will be ignored as “information junk.” Repeating trends ad nauseam or inappropriately applying design elements fall into the information junk category.

My personal history set me on this approach to design. My father was an architect who integrated nature along the lines of Frank Lloyd Wright, and design has been a part of my life from the beginning. We spent a lot of time in nature and a lot of time drawing. One of the most important principles I learned from my father was integrity. That is: be whole…listen to your own truth. But I didn’t consider design as a profession until I looked at the job options for artists. What was then called “commercial art” evolved into a perfect solution for me. I could be both creative and problem solver, and align heart with mind. This is the balance I strive for in all aspects of my life.

I went out on my own at a very young age, near the end of my 16th year. Independence has always been important to me. I became street smart in the larger world quickly. I didn’t go to school for my design chops, I developed them as I went. Design thinking became design-living for me at an early age.

I have never been prepared and I don’t see design as a “career.” Design is the way I live my life. It’s the process of doing the best I can in the moment — a fusion of art form and strategic function. I juxtapose traditional values with edgy stuff in life and work. And that’s where I like to live…on the edge with my traditional values intact. I’d rather take my chances by the seat of my pants. I’m never been a follower, sometimes to my detriment.

I’m not in this game for pushing the corporate ideal of the bottom line. I left ad agencies over 30 years ago because of that. I love the process and I love the result of design. I’ve made great money and I’ve made not much. It doesn’t matter. I do this because I love it and I love it because it gives context to my life. Design is an expression of me. It’s what I have to offer the world. This is my version of socially responsibility: I tell the truth of who I am through design, and my intention is to capture the truth of the client in the process.

My advice: Just do what you love. Don’t even think about doing anything else. We come complete with hearts and heads for a reason. Passion is where your life is and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

*Maggie Macnab: Designer



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