Connections are how we build relationships. Graphic arts are communication arts, which succeed when they create or strengthen relationships.

Whether the other person is a friend, someone we work with, someone we interact with only briefly or that abstraction we call “our market”, we start with connections—with what we have in common.

Photo by Octavio Lopez

The more we have in common, the more fun we have in a relationship. Those things we share, whether they’re hobbies, personal values, children the same age or simply where we live, can become a kind of pivot around which we not only build friendships, but also learn and grow.

Maybe you and a friend share an interest in camping. It’s likely you both have different things you know about the subject. If you go on camping trips together, or even just talk about camping, you may learn new tips and tricks, share camping stories you’ve experienced or heard, and so on. Most importantly, you know that when you get together with this person, you’re going to get to talk about something that matters to you. They get what’s cool about camping. When it comes to camping, they get you.

So one day, during a conversation, maybe your camping buddy shows you some beautiful nature photos they took while they were on a trip, and you think to yourself, “Wow. This is cool!” You ask them how they got such nice photos, what are some good places to see other people’s nature photos, and…

Abracadabra—life just got bigger! You’ve grown in ways you never expected: you’ve now learned a few new things about photography and cameras, and you’ve scribbled down the names of some amazing outdoor photographers you’re going to look up when you get home.

This is a big way we humans learn, and maybe more importantly, this is how we grow.

Photo by nazka2002

Looking back on how a friendship evolved, we began by discovering and building connections. Expanding points of shared experience and shared curiosity, as well as elements of trust, grew out of them. Being human, we wove, and continue to weave, meaning into those connections.

So, not only did we amass more information, we also expanded on some incredibly valuable intangibles.

Great teachers know this: real learning happens when the whole person is actively involved. Current brain research is beginning to add interesting insights to this process and what drives it (hint: what we previously thought of as the brain’s “pleasure center” may now be a much more complex “seeking system”).

Great designers know this: Milton Glaser brings it up again and again, in such observations as how we must “enter into the bloodstream of the culture,” and the often ignored, but so critical relationship between the designer and the public (number ten in a list of ten: best for last?).

As designers, we are in the business of creating human connections in order to promote and sell for our clients. To embrace this as a principle by which we make our design decisions, we must listen and genuinely relate to the people we intend to reach.

It’s interesting to note, by the way, that after we’ve discovered what we’ve got in common (even if it’s only “we both speak the same language and understand what french fries are”), we begin to also enjoy our differences. Even designers get a day to chill out with family (thumb)My more social friends get a surprising amount of entertainment from spotting the surreptitious ways I slip out of gatherings to get some personal space. Also, it’s at least as much of a pleasure to discover the ways my son is so not me as it is to be reminded of the ways we are the same.

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