Today, we are joined by Maria Grønlund, she is a Graphic Designer . You can view her portfolio here.
How did you get started?What’s your education background?
I’m a former classical musician. I’ve attended the Music Academy twice. First as a church organist when I was nineteen and a few years later as a classical singer. I’ve also taken lessons from a piano professor who encouraged me to become a pianist and give piano lessons.
I decided to make a radical change in my career when I was in my mid-thirties and started to study graphic design. Most of what I’ve learned I’ve learn through self-studies. Books, video tutorials, online courses. And by methodically going through all the tools and features in the software I use one by one. It’s important to me to remind others that education not necessarily is limited to institutions and schools. You can access information and knowledge almost everywhere: from libraries, websites, online e-courses. Some for free, some cost a little. It’s one big buffet waiting for you to dig in.
How do you differentiate between UI design & UX design?
The terms really say it very well. UI design is the design and engineering of the actual interface: the architecture of the website/application etc. UX is how the user experience the interface. If the UI is designed visual ergonomic and it’s intuitive and simple to use the user probably won’t notice the UI in details, but rather experience the overall feel and usability of the UI.
Can crappy design still provide excellent UX?
Well, as a designer I’m inclined to say no. If the quality of the design is so bad that it’s distracting or misguiding then it’s not supporting the experience of a good UX. But, well. It’s not necessarily as simple as that. The Bootstrap theme “Geo Cities”* is a good example of an aesthetically disgusting design where everything is done correctly UI and UX-wise: The menu is placed where you traditionally expect it to be. There’s header 1, 2, 3, 4 in recommendable sizes and all the elements seems to be placed neatly in a layout grid. But DE-sign-wise everything has gone wrong. The theme is obvious a joke and seen with a designers eyes it’s absolutely hilarious! All your worst designer nightmares presented on one page.
What are the common criticisms of identity design and is there any validity to them?
One of the common criticisms of identity design is probably that there’s a lot of hype and hot air involved in the business. You know, a logo can cost everything between 5 dollars and a billion dollars (Symantec’s logo was sold for $1,280,000,000). The big question is of course how can there be such a giant gap in the price? Are branding agencies selling hot air? Or is somebody selling out? The value of a well designed identity is highly under- rated by many. A good logo and identity is a really important asset for a company. It’s a visual vehicle that transports the company spirit and message out to the world. Often the identity is the first touch point the company has with the customers/users. When people are browsing the Internet to find a specific product or service. Or are passing by a shop or product. So it’s important that the intended message is being passed on immediately. The expectations to what the logo must communicate and represent is often huge: you must be able to DE-code what the business area is, what the company values are and create a feel and appearance that makes the company’s products and services desirable and appealing to a specific target group. All this must be done in a simple, easy to understand, seemingly effortless way of course. It’s not an easy task! Many people are not aware of how much effort it takes to create a really good identity. There’s also a huge difference between a logo design that’s ‘enough’—fitting the local mechanic around the corner—and an identity that has the function to PO-sition a company among the best (if not as the best) in its field internationally. The quality gap between enough and world class is gigantic which is a part of the explanation behind the large scale of rates for a logo and identity.Well, branding is often said to be a shallow business. But as I see it it’s what you make it! I would very much like to take part in making branding and identity design more authentically. New tendencies like branding with a higher purpose (purpose-driven branding) really interesting and hopefully something that will develop and become more and more integrated in branding and identity design in the future.
What constitutes a good identity mark?
Besides the basic requirements (such as it should be designed in vector so it’s scalable and must work on various medias etc.) A good mark should be unique, memorable and easy to decipher. Its important that it’s not too generic or can be mistaken for another brand. A good mark is a story teller and not just a pretty sticker you apply to all your company material. A good identity mark symbolizes the companies values and visions. And as internal branding for the employers and employees it functions as a reminder of a collective positive goal for the company. As an external branding symbol it signals what the company offers and to whom. It also conveys the overall company spirit. Is the company traditional, in-novative or maybe rebellion? It’s amazing how many layers and connotations you can include in a small mark. It can be very subtle visually, but when you test the effect on people the response is often very prompt and unequivocal. Visuals and symbols seem to tricker something fundamental in our imagination. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so fascinating to work with visual identities.
What are some common mistakes which identity designers make?
I think it’s important not to please the customers too much. To give them not what they want, but what they need. I see that very often. Especially new designers are struggling with this (myself included). But the behavior is also seen in larger bureaus. I suppose it’s based in a fear of loosing the customer and not gaining enough profit. But you’re really not serving your client or your brand credibility by pleasing uncritically. It’s important to take the role as a design expert seriously. A big part of the designing process is not about DE-signing but about the dialog with the company you’re designing for. It’s not something you learn when you’re studying graphic design. It’s something you’ll have to learn by doing. It’s the designers job to guide and advice the company to make the right decisions brand-wise. Some companies approach the designer as if the designer was a graphical hand puppet they’ve hired to craft their ideas. They might be very pleased with the result, but it can be a very expensive experience for the company when the brand is entering the market and do not work as intended. Your costumers have the privilege to be amateurs. It’s your role as a designer to be the professional.
Another common mistake I see many designers do is to follow trends too excessively, making graphics that’s popular at the moment. It gets boring when you see the same style repeated over and over again. And it doesn’t last in the long run. I think designers should allow themselves to position themselves as a brand. Find your own unique style and approach. Allow yourself to be inventive. It involves taking some risks and doing some mistakes. But it really pays off when you can deliver something that no one else can. Then you become more than just a designer. Then you become a brand. If people can’t remember your name, they’ll remember your style: “You know, the brand designer with the stunning colors”.
Can you detail the identity design process and how long this usually takes?
Right now I set the designing period to two weeks. After my customers have paid a deposit and delivered the brief I ask them to fill out I use one week to design one or more suggestions for the company identity. Then I offer yet another week for reviews or new suggestions. The process is quite intense and I really like the fresh flow. I don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to arrive. I usually have some routines: I read about the company, check the competing brands and the market they’re working in. Then I brainstorm, maybe make a mind-map. I start sketching hand drawings to see if the ideas work visually. I pick out ideas I find appealing and suitable for the company and start drawing the logo in vector. Then I prepare a presentation of the identity elements for the client with some examples of how the elements look in use and explain what my ideas behind are. It’s my impression that people are very happy about the storytelling that follows the identities I design.Sometimes it happens that I intuitively have an image of the logo and identity in my head straight away and then I craft the finished result without the prior process mentioned above. Then the work process is reversed: I calculate backwards why it’s a good idea and make drawings of the construction afterwards. It usually happens when the identity is ordered by a someone with a very clear vision for their company. I humorously call it that I ‘channel’ logos, but it’s probably an example of creativity working with the speed of light. Creativity magically seems to break time and space boundaries when you don’t try do control or steer the process. A third example of a work process that’s also typical for me is when I have an craving urge to be creative without having a specific assignment or order. When creativity knocks on the door like this everything else have to wait. I call it that I’m ’in the zone’. Then I can work for days or even weeks on smaller or larger experimental projects. Some of the best work I’ve made is when I’m in this state. For example the digital art project “I speak fluid colors” which Adobe is using as identity graphics for the Adobe Max Conference 2014.
What does the future of UX look like in your head?
I’ve noticed that UI nowadays generally is based on rectangles. The computer screen, the tablets, the smart phones, web-design, app-design. All to a large extend based on rectangular shapes. You rarely see rectangles or squares in nature. Maybe in some mineral or crystal shapes. But 99% of the times you encounter rectangular shapes it’s man made. It’s not organic. It’s not natural and it’s not ergonomic. Rectangles have corners which becomes visual wasteland and sharp edges with an unpleasant feng shui. I imagine that UX in the future is more invisible, build in our surroundings and accessible via voice recognition and gestures. It will be more organic and intuitive. Probably also seemingly device-less. Like holograms and technologies like the Sixth Sense* which projects the UI on the surroundings. Then the UI can be the palm of your hand or the nearest surface. We already see (experimental) technology that can be controlled by thought. A so called brain-computer interface. Can you imagine a Google search based on what comes into your mind? Based on a chain of associations updating as fast as your thoughts change without a single mouse click. Pretty wild, ha?! What I’ve realized is that if you can imagine it, then it’s doable. Even the old fashion laws of physics are bended by scientist and inventors in the pursue of making new technologies possible. Light beams are paused and the light coded with information (by Danish physicist Lene Hau in 2001) a huge step in the direction of making quantum computing possible. And scientists are working on how to bend space to make warp speed travel possible so we can travel faster than light.
How will approaching design change? What technologies will be standard in future?
Well, pixels and paper are most likely not here to stay. The boundaries between print and screen design will disappear with e-paper. In the short term vector web sites will probably be the new standard. I imagine fluid interfaces based on light or fluids with endless resolution in the future. Still pictures and text will decrease in amount due to an extended use of sound, video and live casts. Designers will be more involved in the coding/programming process as it becomes more easy and intuitive to program. The Internet is most likely here to stay but in a new form. It’s a part of the increasing global consciousness. And access to the Internet will be free for all, accessible everywhere and considered a human right. Not only is hand writing subsiding. Manual typing using a keyboard will probably also be replaced by other technical solutions. The UX will probably be more holistic and features like sense stimuli, smell and maybe even taste experiences will be transmitted via technology. Then you can taste mums new recipe via mail and smell the aroma of the dish. And buy a perfume online and download it digitally.Design and the approach to design will most definitely change in ways we can hardly imagine at this point.
What technologies will be standard in future?
Well, it depends on which future we’re talking about. In 5, 10, 100 years? I’m very fond of the Star Trek series and movies. I’ve seen them all! It’s interesting to see how many of the technological ideas from Start Trek that actually have come true: communicators, voice recognition, tricorders. Even the likelihood of a realization of the “beam me up, Scotty”-tele transporter is nearer after scientists successfully have transferred atoms in a groundbreaking experiment earlier this year.And NASA has revealed the design of a warp speed ship recently. There’s actually scientists working on making it possible to travel faster than light. I predict that technology will become more and more organic, based on cellular compounds also. So it can grow, restore it self and regenerate from sunlight or an organic substance of some kind. Algae soup maybe? The UX will be based on what’s optimal seen from a human point and not based on the limits of the technology as it is to a large extend nowadays. I guess the conclusion must be that the boundaries for what’s possible is much wider than we think. We should allow our selfs to have the mind of inventors and explorers as designers. Even if it’s just on a small scale.