Lucienne Roberts

Lucienne Roberts is a designer, writer and co-founder of the GraphicDesign& publishing imprint. She has worked across print, identity, exhibition and digital design for clients such as The Design Museum, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the English Touring Opera. She also works with selected social and political groups.

On the importance of being true to yourself... I count myself lucky if I work with clients whose messages I support, and who are professionally confident, as they are likely to be less cautious in their decision-making. I strive to be genuinely useful, but I also want to be as true to myself as possible – in terms of my politics, the ethical considerations I hold most dear and the design philosophy that I follow. If I feel myself contorting into a different version of me then I start to worry.

When good teams click... In 2013 we had three superb client experiences, back-to-back. They were all on exhibition projects, which because of their intensity and length seem to engender good working relationships. Rather like putting on a play, exhibitions require a team effort. The end date looms large, adding a frisson of excitement and shared panic that results in a level of cooperation and comradeship that's often missing from more arm’s-length graphic design jobs.

In each of these projects, all parties respected each other’s knowledge and expertise. I learnt an enormous amount, not only about the subject of each show but also about what makes a client/designer relationship produce better than average results. When it came to “ideas” the clients were far too busy to want to solve the design problems — that’s what we were paid to do – but there was collaboration. Everyone involved wanted to excel in their field, without straying into each other’s territory. We listened to the curators, and they in turn encouraged us as we put our minds to developing effective visual means to convey often complex or emotionally sensitive information.

The dialogue was ongoing, with many changes on the way, but all arrived at via increased understanding, and no design decision was made in a “top down” way. So, I’d say that collaboration and understanding professional boundaries are two sides of the same coin, and that they are vital in producing exemplary work.

On briefs that ignite the brain... Perhaps I am letting the side down in saying this but I – like many designers I suspect – revel in a degree of constraint. I take constraints as a challenge. I feel enormous achievement when I am inventive from a production point of view within a tight budget, and the adrenalin rush fuelled by a speedy deadline sends me home (very late) with a joyous spring in my step. These two limitations frame the outcome but do not necessarily determine its quality. However, where I do draw a line is a brief that lists instructions, rather than setting out needs and parameters. I know a brief is a goodie when I feel synapses sparking and options pinging about in my brain as I read it.

On avoiding the mediocre... In my experience “design by committee” is a misguided attempt to reach consensus that nearly always leads to mediocrity. The best clients are confident in their decision-making, which includes letting us get on with what we are good at.

This was clearly demonstrated to me when I presented logo options to a charity board of trustees. After a few “I don’t like that shade of blue” comments, the very wise CEO said to her colleagues: “It’s not relevant whether you like it or not. The question is, is the colour option appropriate?”

Wow! I was beginning to fear that if person A didn’t like red, and person B didn’t like blue, I’d be cajoled into using some kind of compromise purple – but no!

A poetic bit of advice for clients... I don’t argue well. In the face of aggression I am shocked and dumbfounded, and only angry when it’s too late to be of any use. My mother used to quote this line from Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, the poem by WB Yeats: “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” The clients who understand this are those that I hold most dear – and who often get the best results.