Blog Archive Oct 7, 2011

Define the difference: Design vs Advertising

This idea came to me while I was trying to finally find a definite answer for those of my relatives, who ask me so what is that what you do? Later I was reading Looking Closer 4 and stumbled upon an article by Michael Bierut, where he gave an answer to the same question I was reflecting on: what is the difference between [graphic] design and advertising?

“What kind of question is that?”, one might think. But considering it longer than 1/10 of a second actually brings one to the conclusion, that the tools and resources being employed within these two seemingly different industries are very imminent. Both, in graphic design and advertising you will need a creative director, an art director, graphic designer, copywriter, interactive designer, client manager, computers, scissors and a fair amount of bricolage.
I am deliberately omitting obvious things like “big idea”, “creativity”, etc.

So why then there are advertising agencies and design agencies? Why do both of them feel comfortable with often (but not always) offering practically identical services? And why there exist several competing advertising holdings (think WPP) whereas designers might consider themselves happy if they have a couple of offices around the world (think Pentagram)?

I’ve come to my conclusions.

But then one day I was reading this almanach and in his article A Manifesto with Ten Footnotes commenting on the phrase “Techniques and apparatus of advertising” Michael Bierut says:

[…] It’s hard to say exactly what’s meant by this particular phrase. The most obvious interpretation is that graphic designers do work that informs, and that advertising agencies do work that persuades. […]

In that passage he goes on stating that “in the ecosystem of the design disciplines, graphic designers have long dwelled at the bottom of the pond”.

This was very close to the point where I got couple of days before. To define this difference between the two types of businesses I came to a conclusion, that designers create the value while advertising agencies sell that value. And while a business can have a pretty ugly design with no added value or idea (look around you), with a fair amount of money pumped in media distribution of a [certainly ugly] advertising idea, it will still make profit. The “out-of-the-blue” entrepreneur backed up with enough cash and ambition but lacking on patience and trust, will skip the design part without doubt. This is where all the “make the logo bigger” or “my 13-years old cousin can do this” comes from. It just doesn’t matter. What matters is how he sells it. Because today everyone can sell everything – and this is certainly no exaggeration.

It’s media, which goes first – this is what they, the decision-makers, must be thinking. And very few actually take care of fine typography and smart execution. Because “design” is still seen as a decorative [commercial] art. Whereas advertising is a big business.

On a side note, it is quite amusing then to hear some of them referencing Apple (website, store, literature, etc) as a specimen, asking for the same level of thought and business philosophy… without actually giving a shit about it.

The next time when my cousin asks me about my occupation I will answer “I do stuff which sells itself without explicitly begging to buy itself”. And leave her reflecting on that.