Power to Designers Conference
February 12, 2014
The Voice talks to Jacek Utko, Design Director at Bonnier Business Press International.
Utko has designed newspapers, magazines and websites in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. He has won almost 50 awards in various competitions. Two newspapers that he designed—Polish business daily Puls Biznesu and Aripaev in Estonia—have been named the World’s Best Designed Newspaper.
What is “modern” design?
A famous Polish writer used to say: “God, help me live in harmony with the times.” Design is like fashion, it comes with a sort of a tag that tells you when a given product was designed. But slavishly reproducing current trends leads to dumbed-down design. It leads to weak products. Mastering the art of design means taking the distinctive features of a given era and giving them your own individual interpretation. Then you can come up with something timeless. All designers copy and draw inspiration from the work of others and there's no changing that. But it all becomes just too easy in the internet era. Having been a judge at various competitions, I have seen a striking similarity in the way people opt for what is "trendy."
How much does new technology influence contemporary design?
Too much. In the midst of all this frantic hunt for innovative ideas, I frequently try to shut off and work offline, with just my sketchbook or a slip of paper and a pen in my hand. Your brain becomes more creative doing that. On the other hand, design will play an increasingly ancillary role to technology, as technology provides us with better, more comfortable lives. Design will be of secondary importance in a way, but there will always be exceptions where design comes before anything else, just as it does today. This is the case when competing products are based on similar technology and design is the selling point, the only thing that carries the brand and delivers a unique experience for the buyer.
Design is an egalitarian kind of art. To what extent can contemporary design artists let their creative juices flow freely and to what extent are they bound by the expectations of the end user?
Striking a balance between these two factors is the key to success. I have always tried to understand my role correctly—as someone who serves readers and makes sure that the layout tells the story better. My aim isn't to come up with pretty covers at all costs. But there are moments when you have to let your own interpretation of the world be visible and it is in moments like those that designers become artists and create things and messages that they like. The designer becomes a bold educator of the public, even when highly commercial products are involved. After all, the success of Apple hinged on the assumption that buyers didn't know what they wanted and needed to be shown and taught what they did want. Constantly asking buyers about their opinions and pandering to their tastes will get you nowhere.
Are there any timeless rules of good design?
Yes, some things age slower than others and remain a reference point many years later. This is hard to do in areas of design that are these days heavily defined by technology, but it's not impossible, especially when for a designer design is about “how it works” rather than “how it looks.” It becomes possible when a designer succeeds in evoking beauty and harmony and comes up with that special thing that gives an object or design a unique feel, regardless of trends and fads. Something that makes interaction with such design worthwhile in its own right and presents an intellectual challenge to the user. That's when you get close to creating something that will stand the test of time.