What’s your Cup of Tea?


Cup of tea - Design

The variables in design are practically infinite. So how can any designer navigate successfully through all the decisions they are required to make? Especially when one person will gush delightedly over the finished article while another snorts in disgust.

Individual choices and preferences create a literal minefield for every designer. When it comes to Art direction or navigating a brief, I like to refer to the ‘Cup of Tea’ effect.

Bear with me here – If you offer someone a cup of tea, they would like it prepared in their own particular way. (I hate making tea for other people, incidentally.)

With only 4 very simple ingredients; Water, Teabag, Milk and Sugar, look at the incredible variety of personal preferences that generates. It’s actually extremely difficult to prepare ‘the’ cup of tea to someone else’s exact taste. Strong, weak, milky, black, sweet?

Just as everyone likes their simple cup of tea ‘just so’, everyone will come up with something different for even the most basic brief.

Set a brief as simple as a ‘Blue Mountain’?

Try it with a group of artists – see how many shades of Blue you get and what shapes are created. The permutations may be surprising, because in your head, YOUR idea of what a Blue Mountain should be is the one you’d be looking for. Not necessarily theirs.

When you start to consider purpose, aesthetics, emotion and then throw in pure subjectivity, its a wonder anything gets designed at all!

So how do we do it?

Well, with all that in mind, its plain that a ‘simple’ brief is not as clear cut and easy as it may initially sound. Read it carefully. Break it down. Talk it through. Are you clear on all points?

You need to examine carefully who and what it is for. What’s current? What’s trending? Most importantly, what does your client really expect? (Your client may be you, by the way.)

Do they even really know what they want? This is not unusual.

Make a mood board that hits every note you’ve registered and then bring your own suggestions into it.

Get your client to pore over this mood board and register their reactions carefully. What do they smile at, what makes them frown and what makes them recoil in horror?

The trick is to get a reaction. Any reaction. Because that gives you vital information you need to get started.

Don’t be scared to throw in some horrific designs in order to provoke these emotions. It’s like a game of ‘Hot and cold.’ Narrow it down using extremes. Just make sure you explain what you’ve done afterwards or they may question your judgement.

Pay careful attention to the brief and here’s the important thing…don’t try and please everyone. Think about that cup of tea. Some people hate sugar. Some people like their tea so sweet they want the spoon to stand up in it. Again, who is it for?

Some people will not like what you’ve done. That’s ok, as long as your client and you are satisfied. Besides, if you don’t provoke some sort of reaction in anyone then you’ve probably done something very strange or bland indeed!

What’s my particular cup of tea? Hell, I only drink coffee…but that’s another story.

Thanks for reading!


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