Designs by One Person

I’ve made no bones about my issues with “teams” doing designs. I don’t like them, they stifle the creative process, and they’re a huge waste of time.

I’ve worked in places that subscribe totally to this team effort, sometimes using up to five different designers to submit ideas on creative (and then combine parts from each submission), or they’ll submit all to a “committee” (of non-designers!) to decide what will fly to the marketing department.

The creative process starts with one idea, culled from design cues in nature and environmental surroundings, and then polished to a finish according to one’s years of visual experience. The best designs are memorable this way: they are unique in that they are always one person’s vision, one’s take on what should be. It’s really that simple.

When Cecil Beaton was called upon to do designs for the fashions in My Fair Lady, his reputation had preceded him. Sir Cecil started out as a photographer in the 1920s and eventually gained respect for his fashion photographs and was hired by (British) Vanity Fair and Vogue while also doing portraits of celebrities in Hollywood. After World War II, he became a Broadway stage and set designer and started doing costume designs and lighting designs. Lerner and Loewe hired him to do the costumes for My Fair Lady in 1956. This success earned him the design spots for Gigi in 1958, and then for the movie version of My Fair Lady in 1964. His iconic Ascot outfit worn by Audrey Hepburn is unquestionably the most famous in all of movie history, and won Beaton the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

Raymond Loewy was born in Paris and was a World War I veteran, attaining the rank of captain in the French army. After emigrating to New York in 1919, he found work designing windows and store displays for Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. In 1929, he got a commission to streamline the look of a duplicating machine for a now obscure company, but that led to other commissions for designs for Westinghouse and refrigerator designs for Sears. He designed locomotives for the Pennsylvania Railroad in the late 1930s and soon developed a working relationship with the Studebaker Corporation. He designed most of the Studebakers throughout the 1950s, and in 1961 was called upon to design a new car called the Avanti, which debuted in 1963. This car is still considered one of the finest designs in automotive history. Loewy was a renowned designer in many areas, including furniture.

If you’re ever in Bear Run, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, you certainly will have to take in Fallingwater, designed by the premier architect in all of America and all the world, Frank Lloyd Wright. I won’t give you a detailed history of Wright, other than to say he had a single credo that guided his every effort—designing structures that were to be in harmony with their environment. His work is very distinctive and encompasses everything from residential homes to museums and even hotels and college campuses. There isn’t nearly space enough in this blog to cover the breadth and scope of his wonderful work, but if you’ve ever been in one of his “spaces”, you’d certainly remember it. Fallingwater, a house built in 1935 over a waterfall, is his most famous design.

Each of these solitary individuals set a tone for designs during their lives that were influential and classic. They were both pioneers and trend setters. And that is something you don’t often come across.

What I don’t understand is why companies choose to ignore the tenet that design is an individual effort. In the formative years at any art and design school, that principle is taught and is borne out in the wonderful sketches and showcases that display the best work at schools such as Art Center in Los Angeles and the Rhode Island School of Design.

But something gets lost in the commercial aftermath. Corporations are run by a CEO, yet the creative decisions are made by departments further down the chart, with the marketing department weighing in more than the rest. It’s become unfortunate that it’s all about money anymore. Even an outside design agency’s creative gets kicked back several times by the client’s committees before going into final art, but not before it gets screened to smithereens by focus groups. The entire process is bigger, yet the results miniscule.

It’s amazing anything gets done, and when it does, it meets nobody’s satisfaction nearly enough. I say take a step back and look why great designs are not produced these days. What would a Raymond Loewy package design look like, or a Frank Lloyd Wright pop-up book?

Please follow and like us: