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