“What problems do graphic designers solve?” That was a recent question that I got from a reader in response to an article here on Graphic Design Blender. He continues his question by adding, “If you’re at an airport will you be more likely to find your terminal if the signs are designed with Helvetica, than if they were designed with Papyrus? Isn’t the only difference that one looks nicer than the other?” This post answers the above questions.
Does graphic design really solve problems?
In short, my answer be a resounding “YES!” I would like to examine a very popular example in which graphic design solved a big problem.
The U.S. Highway System
As early as the year 2004, the Federal Highway Administration allowed for individual states to start using a font named Clearview in place of its predecessor Highway Gothic in order to (according to the researchers and designers behind the new font) “increas[e] the legibility and recognition of road sign[s]”.
The new font has now been accepted nationwide as the standard for highway signs due to legibility tests and faster reaction times proven in studies that have been conducted. You can read all about the new Clearview typeface, the research behind it and its implementation at Clearviewhwy.com. You might also enjoy reading an article written in the New York Times about the change in typeface.
Overall, the change in typeface helped in the following ways: (statistics taken from clearviewhwy.com)
- Improved nighttime sign reading distance by up to 16 percent.
For drivers traveling at 45 mph, that legibility enhancement could easily translate into 80 extra feet of reading distance, or a substantial 1.2 seconds of additional reading time.
- The research revealed that when the upper/lowercase Clearview-Condensed is compared to the most commonly used all-capital-letter typeface, There was a 14 percent increase in recognition when viewed by older drivers at night, with no loss of legibility.
There are many examples where graphic design solves a problem or makes the user experience better. While, the above scenario was a very specific situation, there are thousands upon thousands of everyday problem-solving experiences that graphic designers face. Below are some examples of problems designers may need to solve:
- A company needs to redesign its logo in order to be more up-to-date or to appeal more to its target audience.
- A large corporation wants to reduce clutter in their web site in order to make it more easy for visitors to navigate.
- A big city wants to update its maps of the subway system in order to facilitate easier subway travel.
- A brand new company wants to create a logo or create a sign that will be used to facilitate brand equity and boost sales.
- A writer wants to make his book more interesting by adding meaningful images and a powerful layout to his book.
- What other situations would you add to the list?
You be the judge
There are thousands of visual, experiential, and informational problems to be solved every day as a graphic designer. I would like to know what you think: Does graphic design really solve problems? Or, as the reader here on GDB put it, ” Isn’t the only difference that one [design] looks nicer than the other?”