There are many positive things that can be said about mass production. Unfortunately, its influence on design is not one of them. Through continued exposure to generic, interchangeable brands and products, the appreciation of the well crafted, the unique, and the revolutionary has fallen by the wayside. Unlike times past, the majority of the population no longer celebrates the creative efforts of master craftsmen. This does not, however, mean that works of genius are not still created, or that they cannot still be recognized. On the contrary, just as timelessness and other criteria mark the greatest creations of mankind's past, so may we judge the newest contributions to the cultural collective by the same standards; for example, great wine and great design.
Price doesn't determine quality
As anyone who has ever boasted of their wine buying prowess will tell you, a $100 dollar bottle does not always give you the best return on investment. Sure, a reputable vineyard that can trace its roots back to the Dark Ages can charge pretty much anything they want, regardless of quality, and still have buyers -- an example of vanity pricing at its finest. Not surprisingly, the same rule applies to design. Just because a design comes from a huge firm and costs big bucks doesn't mean it will be any better than the lower-cost design submitted by the freelancer down the street. Of course, just because price doesn't always denote quality, doesn't mean it can't usually be a fair indicator. Price remains a key gauge of quality, since it usually suggests the level of work and effort that have gone into the final product. However, price is just one component to consider when choosing wine or design, and the most expensive option is not always the best.
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Not too blatant, not too simple
A finely crafted wine should not be an assault on the senses. Instead, enjoyment is subject to appreciating a subtle mix of precisely calibrated components that are seamlessly integrated into the whole, and may not be easily discernible into separate entities. The intended intermeshing of components means that one failing can spoil the whole lot. Design follows the same logic, relying on quality graphical assets like wine relies on optimal grapes. If the individual elements are bad, such as an unattractive logo or bad photography, then it's impossible to create good design. Great design, like great wine, should be an experience. From the first encounter to the last impression, it requires an ingenious mix of variables to achieve a truly transcendent experience.
Where you're buying from matters
Although not universal law, it is generally acknowledged that certain regions of the world are better at producing certain products. Whether the soil and climate conditions are conducive to growing grapes, or that there is a certain "vibe" promoting creativity, excellence is generally created in clustered microsystems. Although globalism and technological advances have produced greater fecundity in what were once barren places, and promoted greater tolerance in geographical location as a condition for superior work, rural areas are still seldom the first place people look when searching for great design. Location snobbery should not be disparaged, and although often overlooked when searching for a source of graphic design, headquarter location should be considered. Most of the time, a firm that has the resources and the desire to locate in creative urban cores is going to produce higher quality design than someone operating out of their home in Podunk, USA.
Develop your palate, or use other people's
Not everyone can be a master sommelier. We can, however, use our experiences and knowledge to discriminate what we perceive to be the best product available. Design choices are not made like a typical business decision is. You can't do a market survey before the design is employed, ROI can't be predicted, and borrowing strategies from your competitors will not only be obvious, but detrimental. In the same way that a particular wine becomes your favorite because it just tastes the best to you, designs must be picked because you think they look the best. However, for those of us that may not have had the chance to build our palates, awards and points designated by experts are used in lieu of personal taste, for designs and wines.
Different purposes for different tastes
Neither wine nor design is one size fits all. Given the wide range of inputs necessary for both, it would be foolish to imply that one design or one wine is the best for any and all situations. Just as you might pick a wine to accompany your meal, designs should be picked according to the product for which it's meant. Though design choices can be adapted to suit ecommerce, big brand, small business, and many more of an endless variety of products and services offered, not all designs are universal. Too often companies are convinced that the brilliant design they just saw for a shoe company would work great for their automotive business. The next time you are presented with this situation, just ask how they pair their wine. If they insist on a white with steak, you know it's a lost cause.
Emily McClendon is an environmental marketing specialist at NeboWeb.
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