Good To Great?

I get asked all the time, ‘Surely you should want to be Great, not just Good?’

Putting aside the reasoning that we wanted a simple word to name our company which benchmarked our integrity and set a minimum standard for our work - of course we do.

But Great and Greatness are big words to fill. Aiming to be great is one thing, actually being recognised as great is something entirely different. In this age of instant gratification, we seem obsessed with the now and in our industry and others, the need for ‘great’ plaudits - now.

Which begs the question - “Can we really measure greatness in new design work, today?”

Greatness is a pinnacle in any endeavour because so many factors can dictate that, despite your best efforts and good intentions, you won’t quite make it. Never mind great, to be really good takes time to achieve and in our game, that costs money and there isn’t a lot of that about. On top of that, designers need a great client to do great work. Someone with integrity, purpose, vision and expertise. A bastion of passion and energy that wants to go that extra mile and fly in the face of convention to deliver truly great work. You guessed it, these guys and girls are pretty thin on the ground and this is all without even going into the other factor you need, luck.

To me, good work in our industry stands out and stands up today, doing its job, delivering above and beyond the brief and ensuring the desired ROI for the client. If you’re lucky and if it’s really good, you’ll get a consensus and recognition from those you respect that you’ve nailed it.

Can it be judged great - today? I don’t think so. The real judge of greatness is surely time itself.

There is some fantastic work out there being done by some real quality teams, but will it all stand the test of time? The answer will undoubtedly be - no. Time will filter the good, the really good, the fantastic and the award winning. As the years go by the work that’s still recognised, admired and still in the public domain will dwindle and dwindle and evolve and dwindle, until only a few remain. These survivors, designed for the short and long term, should and will be judged by the majority to be great.

Otl Aicher’s 1972 Munich Olympics identity system. Paul Rand's IBM logo. Saul Bass’s poster for The Man with the Golden Arm. FHK Henrion’s work for KLM and Blue Circle Cement, to name but a few. No one can argue that these are benchmark pieces of work. Beautifully simple, designed for their time and more than fit for purpose. They have survived the fads, trends and flights of fancy to be lauded as truly great work that all designers can learn from.

That said, great can happen, on occasion, that little bit quicker. The planets align with a fantastic client with the right budget and plenty of time, working with the right team in the right agency and you get - a FedEx logo. Genius. Designed in 1994 by Lindon Leader at Landor in San Francisco. Simplicity itself, designed and crafted around an instinctively relevant idea - an instant classic and always destined for greatness. The exception rather than the rule.

So, we want to be great, but at the very least we promise to be good because by our standards, that’s more than good enough. We’ll take the lessons of the past and find that insightful idea, we’ll keep it as simple as possible to give it the best chance of long-term success and we’ll craft it to the nth degree. Will our work be judged as great, we really hope that someday some of it will, but I’ll leave that judgement to our grandchildren’s great grandchildren.