The Importance Of The Big Picture

I am currently working with a playwright to develop graphics to promote his inaugural work. We have had several discussions about the origins of the work – how he came to write it and its importance to him and and to the audiences that see it. We’ve discussed the message it communications and the manner in which it communicates. Through all of our conversations his vision has emerged – what he wants to see happen and how I, as a designer, can help him accomplish it. It’s all about his vision. That’s the significant thing… he has a vision that’s bigger than writing, directing and promoting the play. The play is not the vision. The play is a means to the vision.

Every designer needs a vision – something greater than his current project queue. There should be a bigger reason for doing what you do than simply making a client happy or being creative. It has got to be greater than making a living or else designing becomes just a job and design no more important than decorating.

Vision is that thing that keeps you going, the big thing “out there” that you’re reaching for that you’re desperate to achieve. It’s the “why” behind what you do every day – the solution to a problem that you are compelled to solve or fix. It is not something you simply stumble upon, but without it, you will stumble. Vision stems from the things that you’re really passionate about and unifies everything you do.

Vision is the the ability to plan the future with imagination and wisdom. It’s a mental image of what the future will or could be like. It begins with a “burden”- that thing that is the most important among all the other things that are important. It is picturing a reality that does not yet exist but that can and should.

I believe that designers need vision for themselves because it anchors them. It will keep them going through tough projects, demanding clients and fast-paced schedules. If the only reason a person practices design is for the money or the fame, burn out is right around the corner. What keeps him going is the bigger pictures he is striving to paint.

Vision needs to be simple and memorable. It needs to be easily stated and repeatable. The more people you want to communicate your vision to, the simpler it needs to be. Try reducing it to one word. If you cannot do that, it’s not simple enough.

Vision needs to be foundational. Communicate it first to yourself so that it becomes your focal point and your raison d’etre. The more you repeat it to yourself the more it becomes part of you. It’s your stand-out point of difference from all the other designers who do what you do.

Vision needs to be transferrable. Cast your vision so that others will catch it. Why? Because you need help. Your vision is what makes you unique and valuable among your fellow design practitioners, but it’s not something you can achieve by yourself. Others need to support you in it and can’t unless they know what you’re trying to achieve. These others will include family, friends, colleagues, sub-contractors and suppliers. If they’re not supporting you in your efforts you won’t get anywhere.

An effective way to cast your vision is story-telling. Stories are the most powerful way to communicate values and vision. They bring an emotional element which empowers people. Where people won’t remember facts and figures they will remember a good story.

Vision needs to be re-cast. Once you achieve your vision, you need a new one. If you don’t keep vision out in front of you you’ll be living on past laurels with no reason to continue forward. Anticipation and hope die and you end up with nothing to look forward to.

Being without vision is problematic. Why? Without vision you will:

  • Take on any project.
  • Stay very busy but accomplish nothing.
  • Live on your last design award or your most recent success story.
  • Be outrun by the culture. The marketplace is always shifting and your clients are always changing.
  • Fail to adapt your processes to a changing market. You’ll become inflexible.
  • Drown in your process rather than structure your life for creative success.
  • Fail to identify and pursue what’s essential.

But with a vision you will:

  • Choose your projects and select your clients.
  • Be less likely to settle for less.
  • Order your schedule rather than it ordering you.
  • Adapt to cultural and technological changes without feeling threatened by them.
  • Pursue the essential things and let go of what’s not important even if those things seem urgent.
  • Remain forward- focused, moving toward the goal rather than on the other runners in the race.

How do you determine your vision? Begin by answering these questions:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • If you weren’t here, what would not get accomplished?
  • What is your ideal project or client and why?
  • What would you like your future to look like in 5 or ten years? How about 25 years from now?
  • What legacy do you want to pass on?

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.