Some time ago, I stumbled onto Frank Chimero’s blog – a designer, illustrator and teacher of graphic design who apparently thinks quite deeply about the work that he does.

In his very brief thought essay, Why Is Greater Than How, he writes:

How is important for new practitioners learning to avoid common mistakes. Why is for those who wish to push, are not risk-averse, and seek to improve. How is coulda, Why is shoulda. How is finishing tasks, Why is fulfilling objectives. How results in more, Why yields better.

When I first started out in the printing and publishing industry, I concentrated on learning the tools we used to make things. The use and types of paper, bindings, typography, the mechanics of the printing press and how ink is layed down, the die cutter, how paper and board react to embossing, stamping, scoring and folding.

But once I had those tools in my pocket, I began looking at design as a path towards a project’s eventual use – how the piece will be held, used, set up, displayed, how long would it last, how much abuse it will take, where it will be used and who would be using it.

Only after reading Chimero’s brief paragraph did I understand I had moved from the use – the how – of these tools to why I’m using them this way.

But, when I walk into a project design planning session with a client, my first request is that they give it a name. A container to put my thoughts into. This immediately gives me some insight into the “why” of the design.

And “why” has always seemed to be that first question we ever asked, isn’t it?

st joseph_de la tour2St. Joseph, the Carpenter
Georges de la Tour
oil on canvas
completed 1640

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