Applied Arts—Spring 2018

You Don’t Know Me: 
The importance of anonymity


You work for them: an online source for design resources and also a philosophical reminder of what we do. As a designer, I understand—somewhat—the use of the service, though I have yet to use it. As a phrase, however, I interpret it as both inspiring and incomplete. Three simple words: you, them, and work.

When I hear “you work for them,” I initially think of the client-contractor relationship. Upon mention of this phrase, Dominic Ayre, creative director at Hambly & Woolley, pointed out something that had not yet occurred to me: “With Hambly & Woolley, my name is not on the door—so arguably, I’m working for somebody.” Let’s unpack this. Work is a means to earning an income, a place we go to and the products we produce. Like Dominic, I am employed by someone. My business is not associated with my name, neither will it, nor should it, be. It’s simply not relevant. Perhaps this touches on the crux of this article: I neither work for acknowledgement of what I produce nor to be recognized for my place of employment. For whom I work, however, I do care.

Lionel Gadoury, principal of Context Creative, is succinct in his summary: “We are hired to solve a problem.” Agreed. We are commissioned as discipline specialists and subject matter experts, and, Lionel says, “We’re hired to solve a client’s needs and objectives. We’re hired for our ability to understand the audience, and what it’s going to take to engage the audience to help clients achieve their goals.”As designers, I hope we can all agree on this perspective. Do we?

Clients recruit us for our insight, and for our ability to engage audiences. As Dominic states, “In the simplest way, when it comes to a financial business agreement I work for them [an employer]; when it comes to the work that we do, we work together.” Both designers and I agree: they (clients) hire us (contractors) to help with a job.

At the core of every contractor-client relationship is, or rather should be, the concept of collaboration. It’s what inspires Alison Garnett and business partner Carolina Soderholm. Together, they have built a firm based on collaboration and craft. In fact, it’s what inspired the name Field Trip & Co.. Together, they have a deep sense of curiosity, and like any field trip, “If you change the view, the view changes you,” Alison once told me. I very much relate their approach of “empathetic listeners who believe that understanding customers is essential to a brand’s success.” Design is not letting attitude and taste taint solutions; rather it’s about being open-minded when listening. As Lionel tells me, “It’s that ability to respect and understand the user experience, and understand the audience. It’s about our insights and our empathy.”

I have an additional perspective on the phrase “you work for them.” Designers are hired to listen, to learn and to create. We are not hired by a patron to accord us the privilege to pursue our whims and fancies, to express a unique personal style, to recite common themes, or to explore new ideas at the expense of the client, or worse, the audience. As designers we are anonymous; there is a greater good to consider.

I believe in the client-contractor collaborative relationship. I believe in a discovery process that generates a clear definition of the problem, a design evolution that sheds light on the user and solutions that are responsive to client and user. I find inspiration in a process that allows me to feel empathy for the individual or the collective for whom the design is intended to serve.

Lionel and Dominic individually have built careers around establishing relationships. Likewise, Alison tells me, “We don’t enter a new project without knowing the client, knowing the audience.” Her firm has built a practice around a process that yields that understanding. However, I also believe the designer’s responsibility, in addition to finding a solution to the client’s problem, is to advocate for anonymous. When I hear the phrase “you work for them,” I equate “them” as the groups not at the table—the audiences rarely considered, and the groups left out of typical conversations, discovery processes and user research. For me, “them” are also those without a voice. They are the multiple audiences for whom I also work for. The anonymous.

A designer’s insight and ability to engage audiences should also be harnessed as a means to remind our design team and client to address topics that may otherwise not receive attention. Our role is to identify stories of underrepresented groups, stories that challenge conventional narratives and stories that may be painful or difficult to tell. For this designer, that’s why I find the phrase “you work for them” to be both inspiring and incomplete.

You don’t know me, nor should you—ever—and certainly not for the works I create. As a designer, I strive not not let my output in any way be recognizable as crafted by me. I wholly believe I should be anonymous in the products I craft. Designers should be at the table as representatives of the the overlooked, the voiceless, the anonymous. I see a future where the work we produce is recognized for the audiences it serves, not for the individuals who created it. “You work for them” is not a statement of what we do, rather a reminder of who we do it for.


time, vol 18, no 4

Applied Arts is Canada's premier magazine of visual communications. Applied Arts explores the strategic and cultural forces driving creativity in Canada and features the resulting work—whether groundbreaking, unusual or otherwise exceptional. Printed quarterly, the magazine is written for, and by, thought leaders and emerging talents in the visual communications field. Since 1986, Applied Arts has delivered gorgeous imagery, strong opinion, timely information and essential industry insight to a readership of 46,000 creative and marketing professionals.


Summer 2018 Issue This issue suggests that in addition to our insight and ability to engage, we are also hired to represent all audiences.