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Duane King

Designer, Thinker and Writer

Primary design concentration:

Print and Strategic Branding

Most preferred tool for designing:

An open mind

How and why did you choose to become a designer?

As a child, I had a tendency to copy every logo I saw in the BMX and surfing magazines I browsed. Little did I know that they were called logos, and that there was an industry called ‘graphic design.’ When I was 18, I got a job as an artist at a silkscreening shop. We had a phototypesetter there, and it was in the process of using that device, that I really started to discern the subtle differences between typefaces and their individual characters. I was hooked.

Challenges you encounter as a designer and how do you deal with them?

The biggest challenges that I encounter are specifically related to selling graphic design. Solving design problems is relatively easy, but the modern designer also needs to be a skilled communicator. Selling and explaining your ideas to clients and non-designers in a convincing, coherent manner, requires listening as well as talking. Persuading clients that your ideas are right and that their money is being spent wisely requires a lot of carefully crafted thought. Graphic design is, after all, a primarily non-verbal medium.

Your definition of an “elegant solution,” that is, good design?

To borrow from Dieter Rams, “good design is as little design as possible.” Truthfully, the answer will always be subjective. In lieu of a direct answer, here are some practical criteria for evaluating your own work. There are three simple questions that Adrian Shaugnessy, author of How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul, suggests we ask at the end of a project: Is the client happy? Is the job profitable? Is the project newsworthy?

From skills to values, what makes a designer successful?

Passion, a knowledge of the history of our craft, and a point of view. Passion is simply impossible to teach. We also need to take inspiration from world beyond graphic design while understanding our place within the timeline of art and design history. After all, to know where you’re going you have to know where you’ve been. Figure out what you care about and devote yourself to that purpose. Have a viewpoint, believe in something, and trust your instincts.

How do you stay motivated and grow personally and professionally as a designer?

Never settle. Good enough is never good enough. There is always someone out there who will outwork or outperform you. Stay alert and live in the moment. Help others and you will be helped. Have integrity and be honest.

For those aspiring to become a designer, whatever the discipline, what is your advice?

Be a sponge. Pay attention to the world around you. Absorb everything. Brilliance exists in the broad search and the clever linkage of one seemingly unrelated event to another.

Put down the design annuals. Don’t look to design and advertising for inspiration. Rather, look to the zeitgeist: politics, entertainment, business, technology, art, and more.

Collaborate with others. Collaborations with people, from a wide variety of skill sets, will also serve to expand your view of what’s possible. Whether designers, programmers, motion graphics artists, illustrators, copywriters or photographers, the result will be a mix of cultural, economic, and creative energy that can offer true originality while testing your assumptions of how things are done.

Lastly, change your perspective. Sometimes you need to cover your eyes so you can hear well.

What is your quest in design?

Although design is a profession, it’s above all a passion. And as passionate graphic designers, we are obliged to ourselves, our industry and our clients to provide creative solutions that have persuasive branding messages, but also emotional power and aesthetic value. I believe great design is an art, not a commodity or a formula. It’s a structure and process that needs to be tested and re-examined as it evolves. Our efforts can affect the community at large, and even define it.

Duane King is the Creator of Thinking for a Living, “an ever-growing platform dedicated to the concept of open source design education.” He is a Creative Director at Huge/KingCoyle with Ian Coyle. He recommends The Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds, Grid Systems in Graphic Design, and Blade Runner.

Image courtesy of Duane King.

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