Designing to Inform and Delight: Drawing Inspiration from Milton Glaser

Milton Glaser: Design to Inform and Delight

Good visual communicators reach into the depths of culture and listen to its heartbeat. Those who really have the ability to affect an audience recognize not only what the people enjoy, but what they are missing and don’t know it yet. Some argue that designers are the architects of the future; they are the people that create the stuff we want, need, see, and use and thus significantly impact the way the rest of us view our world. For the last century in America, there has been sad byproduct of the need to increase wealth: the atrophy of good design. For all the valuable traits that have come with expedience and mass production (speed, money, industry, progress), much has been lost in regards to paying attention to details: we’ve lost, in many cases, the ability to both inform and delight. Design, visual communication, is a detail that has for far too long been ignored. After all, how many schools do you know of that require visual communication as a course or a literacy skill for graduation or advancement?

A sad fact I read a few years ago is that our ability to communicate visually (draw, design, etc.) atrophies at the age of 10. This means that most adults likely can’t draw or design a flier on a computer any better than a fifth-grader. For those of us who have taken a course or two on Photoshop or InDesign, hopefully that isn’t the case. But for the majority, it’s the sad truth. In Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind, he mentions that most kindergarteners claim to be artists. So do most first and second graders. But, in an informal survey, he found that by sixth grade, most students are embarrassed to admit that they like art. But in this day and age, can any of us really afford to not know how to communicate visually? The question is, where do we start, and what do we focus on?

I recently re-watched the documentary Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight. The subtitle to this film is a mantra that I’d like to see all good visual communicators employ in their design thinking. Visual communication is a diverse subject matter, a topic that encompasses anything from street signs to culinary display, but I believe most communications (even very technical or scientific ones) can both inform and delight. Visual literacy isn’t about being an artist per se; it’s about being artistic in the way we communicate.

As I watched the film, I believe I was most struck by Glaser’s sources of inspiration (and for those of you who don’t know who Milton Glaser is, he is considered one of the most widely respected graphic designers on the planet and is known for developing the “I [HEART] NY” campaign and starting New Yorker magazine). Milton Glaser has a unique ability as a human being to be tapped into many realms and see design from a global perspective. In the film, he alluded to the following as being important aspects of his communications: music, dancing, travel, food, puzzles, collaboration, and relationships. While his skill in design is obvious, his emphasis on getting an education in design is almost on the backburner. Sure, he mentions it and is proud of it, but that isn’t what makes his designs strong.

A goal, I suppose, is to 1) encourage all communicators (and who isn’t one???) to employ aesthetic knowledge to their communications and to 2) encourage decision makers (in city planning, education, business) to not ignore the humanistic value of good design. As visual communicators and as fellow people, let’s push Milton Glaser’s legacy; let’s make our culture shine through good design and not let bad design impair the world we see.