Problem of Concept
***If you would like to avoid confirmation bias, please take a look at, and study both images below (in new windows!) before reading this article.***
Oftentimes people wonder what it is graphic designers do besides play around making pictures all day. The most fundamental problems that designers overcome are conceptual problems. Graphic designers use images and typography to convey whole ideas, elicit emotion, and relay information.
I spent one semester in a design program at an institution regionally known for their communications department, which is the only formal design training I’ve ever had. Prior to attending at 18, I had already been an avid photo editor, and figured I’d just extending my playtime into life skills…and I was absolutely wrong. That semester was was spent learning the basics of color, shape, and texture. Very little graphic design was done…and what was done was mostly in black and white, and using basic geometric shapes to elicit different emotions.
In any case, in creating my recent desktop, I wasn’t necessarily attempting to solve any conceptual problem besides how to make an interesting desktop, however upon completion, I was able to identify one I did “solve”:
Because this image was representative of bias I’ll share later in the post, I decided to make a subtle adjustment which changes the entire tone to make it more flattering:
Unfortunately you may not be able to tell given the resolutions, but take a look at both images, and see if you get a different mental image from each. Try it out before reading on (of course, now that you know you’ll suffer from confirmation bias).
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Upon completion of the first image, I realized that it was a pure manifestation of my own bias against Krugman. The Accidental Theorist is one of my favorite books of all time. In the first image, I have the book crumpled in the background, juxtaposing the image with a crystal ball featuring an image of Krugman, the NYT “T”, and his name. What this insinuates is that Krugman has left the realm in which he produced grand works of scholarly merit, and has entered the world of mysticism in writing for the New York Times. It is as if the hands are “serving” you the “new” Krugman.
In the second image, I have the same crystal ball, with the same images; however now they are juxtaposed with the NYT Editorial and Opinion page. What this image conveys is a sense that Paul Krugman is a treasure from an otherwise less-quality editorial page. The treasure is given to you by the Times, and the smiling Krugman is welcoming you to read.
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Bottom line: Image placement is extremely important. Imagery, color, and texture are the three building blocks with which designers work to create images which solve the millions of conceptual problems faced by individuals and businesses every day. In this sense, a “pixel perfect” image is not one that is perfectly pristine, but one that uses those building blocks to powerfully convey the message intended, and overcome the conceptual problem at hand. The actual “brick and mortar” work using tools like Photoshop and Illustrator is the garnish.
As an aside, I absolutely love making spheres in Photoshop…I don’t really know why, but whenever I complete one it makes me feel accomplished .