B-Designs (or Intent as Important Criteria)

JUST the other day, one of my officemates asked everyone what makes a B-movie a B-movie. I remember saying that we should criticize them according to their intention, including how they plan to execute that intent. If the movie has more or less achieved what it set out to do from the beginning, then it is a success. I think a B-movie becomes one when its intent is to be a cash cow, blockbuster hit, but ultimately fails because of trying too hard, which usually means gratuitous violence, horrible special effects, over-the-top action movie cliches, and various forms of exploitation. Maybe other factors could have hampered their success, such as budget, equipment, or cast, but that is why those factors should have been considered from the beginning and the necessary adjustments made.

Given those criteria, however, a movie with poor production value is not necessarily a B-movie. If the original intent for the output is to be cheap/low-quality to achieve a comedic or dramatic effect, such as recent Tarantino/Rodriguez films or Monty Pythons, then the production succeeds in giving the audience a good movie experience. Such films are successful, or at least serviceable, because they have established a sense of identity. They are what they are, which is what they want to be. With that, I would have to say that something that is trying to sell itself, or even hype itself up to being more than what it really is is a B-movie. The same principle can be applied to other things: a B-song, B-acting, B-design. They are suffering from an identity crisis. They do not know what they are and what they are capable of.

I came across an article about a certain comic book that supports what I am trying to say. In his article, Augie De Bileck Jr. quoted Roger Ebert, an acclaimed film critic, by saying “the work must be judged with its intent in mind.” That is something that I completely agree with. As much as De Bileck was using that idea to examine a comic book, I believe that this manner of criticism can be used to assess graphic design as well. As a graphic designer, I also have to say that the intent must be carried out with an established and sincere sense of identity, since identity shapes intentions.

Designers must establish an equilibrium between knowing what they want to do and knowing what they can do. To achieve that would involve planning, and that encompasses everything — from research, intent, up until execution. Designers have to ask themselves before they even start working on a project: What do I want to achieve? How do I communicate this certain information to my intended audience? Would communicating it that way be effective and suitable? Of course, things don’t always go according to plan, problems and revisions will be encountered along the way, but you to begin with some form of structure geared towards accomplishing your intent. When the plan is formulated, then the designer must assess if he has necessary resources to carry out the design.

I remember my midterm exam for Advanced Graphic Design class back in college: produce our own personal Press Kit. My professor, Ali Figueroa, gave us a 150-peso budget for everything. That included brochures, a printed portfolio, leave-behinds, fliers, etc. The more we spent over the budget, the lower he graded us. This was the project that really taught me that, as graphic designers, planning the design is very important. We don’t just wing it. We don’t go by feeling. We plan. We find out what we can, know what there is to know, and plan not just within our resources, but also within our capabilities.

Knowing is important in design, since you make your plans from what you know, whether you’re planning a short skit for Theater class, an oil painting of your childhood repressions, a print ad for a wire company, a weekend vacation, or a blockbuster film. That is what a designer does: He figures out how to carry out an intent using only the resources available and planning within his own capacity. Production value, aesthetics, they are all part of it, of course, but they should serve as tools of design and not undermine the intent (unless that is the intent, but wouldn’t that just be showing off?).

— Kenneth Umali

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2 Responses to B-Designs (or Intent as Important Criteria)

  1. Jamie B. says:

    Questions about the project assignment from Ali Figueroa:

    Was it graded simply based on how much you spent? What were the goals or objectives of the personal press kit and how did that affect the grading? If it was just about trying to make a press kit using as little money as possible, would a student who just hand wrote all his info on a sheet of bond paper and spending less than 1 peso get graded higher than a student who found a way to create a brochure, flier, folder and portfolio but had to spend 5 pesos? How did he judge the success of a project, as this would have shown the importance of “intent” better than the effect of budget.

    Your essay talks about the importance of “intent” in judging a design, so I’m curious how intent was a factor in your college assignment example since it isn’t mentioned. It seems in that example, it’s simply about budget and counters your point about budget being a main criteria for judging a work (granted, here it seems to simply be judged in reverse: with a lower budget/production values getting a higher grading or better judgement).

    While it’s obvious one must plan and consider one’s resources and capabilities when trying to achieve something (which is the essence of design: problem solving), how does one affect the other? In other words, which does the designer change or adjust? Does a designer try to make an “intent” more achievable or realistic given limited resources or capabilities, or does the designer try to maximize the limited resources and capabilities to strive to hit an ambitious “intent” with the risk of failure?

    Or in the terms of the project by Prof. Figueroa, one student could say, “I’ll only spend 1 peso, but I’m adjusting my intent to only tell one person about myself, and they don’t have to think I’m a good designer. I just want them to notice me because my kit is different from everyone else’s which is printed or computerized. My intent is simply to look different to one person, create awareness only and spend P1.”

    Another student could say, “My intent is to get at least 100 people to hire me as a designer and to create at least 5 different outputs. I’ll try to hit that goal by spending not more than P150.”

    If no intent is mentioned by Prof. Figueroa (who would be like the client in that case), then wouldn’t both students’ methods be valid? It’s like a client who says they want a brochure and gives a budget. As a designer, do you set a simpler intent like awareness or getting the material noticed? Or do you set a loftier goal like convincing someone to buy something, or change their worldview, with the exact same limited budget and thus put extra time, effort, imagination, and added risk to achieve it?

    In other words, do you believe any intent or objective can be achieved with any budget, with just the right amount of planning and design? Or should a designer be realistic and try to temper and choose their objectives depending on the given budget and their capabilities in order to increase the chances of success? Or can both be true? When do you decide to think one way instead of another?

    • Was it graded simply based on how much you spent? What were the goals or objectives of the personal press kit and how did that affect the grading?

      How did he judge the success of a project, as this would have shown the importance of “intent” better than the effect of budget.

      P150 was the budget for one press kit, which would ideally be given to one client. The kit should build our relationship with the client, showcase our capabilities as a designer, and serve as an opportunity to “brand” ourselves as designers. Mr. Figueroa did say that we could choose to spend as much as we want for our presskits in the future, but this project is all about learning how to design using only the resources at your disposal and the budget was a necessary condition for the project to be challenging.

      This addressed the problem of designing without thinking of the budget, wherein a lot of good designs are made only to be compromised (negatively) during the production stage because of budget.

      It was not graded simply based on how much was spent, but on how much the design was maximized (as you said) given the budget. I am not entirely sure as to how Mr. Figueroa graded us, but I’m sure that going over the budget deducted points.

      In other words, which does the designer change or adjust? Does a designer try to make an “intent” more achievable or realistic given limited resources or capabilities, or does the designer try to maximize the limited resources and capabilities to strive to hit an ambitious “intent” with the risk of failure?

      Maximize the limited resources, because changing your intent diminishes your own integrity and your credibility to others. You have to know you can do a project before agreeing to do it in the first place. That is why it is important to establish one’s sense of identity, to know what you are capable of. How do you establish your identity? Philosophers have been asking that since the beginning, and an easy way to start is to simply ask; about yourself, about the times, or about other people in the same profession. Look at trends, demographics, look at your own portfolio, ask yourself who your role models are, or which people you honestly believe are worse than you and are better than you. “Knowing is half the battle”, as they say. I am not saying, however, that there is no more room for growth. I am referring to knowing one’s current identity, at this point in time, more or less, and to know one’s capabilities in approximation, give or take.

      In other words, do you believe any intent or objective can be achieved with any budget, with just the right amount of planning and design? Or should a designer be realistic and try to temper and choose their objectives depending on the given budget and their capabilities in order to increase the chances of success? Or can both be true? When do you decide to think one way instead of another?

      It really depends on the designer’s judgment, which depends on how much he or she knows/how much he or she is educated on the field, but I would have to say that you should be realistic.

      Thank you for raising those questions. I should have expounded more on the project but I just wanted to mention it in the article to share where I, as a graphic designer, really learned the importance of planning/problem solving.

      — Kenneth

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