Monday, June 21, 2010

As designers grasping for concepts, we've all done it.

Generally, products are supposed to make our lives easier. Think about it: can openers, window cleaners, orange peelers, dish washers, steam irons, water picks, banking services, self-propelling mowers and vacuums, diet pills, WD-40, iPhones, etc., etc., etc.

When faced with creating an ad for such a product, a designer wants an original concept. We need to let the consumer know that specific tasks will flow so much easier if they run out and buy whatever is pictured in the ad.

Sometimes when the brain is fried from too much…whatever designers like to do on the weekend…then the dulled artistic mind will inevitably fall back to the default tried and true concept:

Life is Hard. Your (fill in the blank) Doesn't Have to Be.

For design students, this concept is a must. It's just going to happen and nobody is to blame. Kids laugh at knock-knock jokes, tadpoles swim in water, and design students create "Life is Hard" ads.

Now if the student who created the ad doesn't get slapped down early in the critique process, he or she may think that such weak brainstorming is acceptable.

Don't get me pegged as a concept snob. I still have my own fair share of stink bombs. It's just that the "Life is Hard" concept is such an unbelievably easy cop-out to witty or clever ideas (and it is surprisingly overused in the professional arena), that to not call folks out on it would be a disservice to their creativity.

So if the student did not learn to avoid the default concept pit trap, they may very well incorporate it into their professional career.


Life is Hard. Washing dishes shouldn't be.


Life is stressful. Your plane ride shouldn't be.


Life is full of problems. Your insurance company shouldn't be one of them.


Life is a bitch. Your girlfriend shouldn't be. (Okay, that one's a bit funny, but it would never pass the suits.)

I noticed this trend of the easy concept when I ran across one in a national magazine. Why did it catch my eye? Because I thought, "Wow, I've done ads like this before."

Then after I let the concept in the ad simmer for a moment, I thought, "Aw, crap. I've done ads like this before."

I realized that since I was never reprimanded for my own elementary ideas while in my advanced design courses, I carried those bad habits into my professional career.

If you are a student, please be receptive to push harder into your concepts.

As professionals who may occasionally do more than a few student portfolio reviews, the best medicine we can offer is to slap down lazy concepts. Stop them at the inside doors of the university before we are hit with another "Life is Hard. Your water shouldn't be."

Because, after all, life is hard. So should brainstorming for quality concepts.

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