Design or Die:

Why Design Is More Important Than Ever



Written by Jenai Kershaw

“The goal of design is to raise the expectation of what design can be.”

Those words by design veteran Paula Scher serve as inspiration for generations of designers who strive to push their work to new heights. In recent years, design has taken a front seat when it comes to building brands and businesses. It also plays an essential role in bringing old or forgotten brands back into relevance.

To talk about the state of design, we brought in some of the best designers in Canada at our ‘Design or Die’ talk. Our panel included Vanessa Eckstein, Founder and Creative Director of Blok Design; Mo Bofill, Executive Director of Design at John St.; and Dave Watson, Executive Creative Director of Design at Mosaic. They shared their perspectives on good design, the state of the industry, and how young designers can catch their big break.

The Goods Packaging – Mo Bofill

So, Why Is Design More Important Than Ever?

We kicked off the event by asking our panel that age-old question. For Mo, it’s the changing speed of the industry. She believes that good design helps brands evolve and produce content quicker than ever before. According to Vanessa, design has the power to make a shift in society, especially when its members see its value and what it represents.

“Design is never (about) aesthetic. That is bad design. Good design, and the history of design… was always about content.”

For Dave, design is a balance of meaning, and cutting through the frill. One of the biggest challenges in advertising is finding effective ways to reach people. Good design is an answer to that.

Getting Down to Business

Convincing brands to steer in a certain creative direction can be a challenging feat. Vanessa commends clients who understand the importance of design. “The conversation starts at a different level. We’re literally starting at the depth of the thought and not why design is important. And that just makes a humongous difference.”

Mo emphasizes that explaining the strategy behind design is crucial in any client relationship. “A logo is not just a logo. We’re building a brand. We’re building an identity. That (takes) a lot of heavy lifting,” she explains.

“The best work that I’ve been lucky enough to create and produce is through that long-term relationship,” adds Dave. “It very rarely happens out-of-the-gate.”

World Wildlife Foundation Launch Campaign – Mo Bofill

Canada’s Walk of Fame Rebranding – Dave Watson

Less Feed and More Fuel – Improving Student Books

What’s missing from student portfolios right now? All three agreed that students need to focus less on an aesthetic and more on the thought behind the work. Student books are falling short on critical thinking and justification, and risk looking indistinguishable. “There’s not a lot of bravery, in terms of experimentation,” Mo mentions. She urges young designers to share their stories and show their thinking more openly.

The trend towards derivative design might be trickling down from the larger global design community. Perhaps the unanimity of design is symptom of the internet and having access to the same inspiration and designers as everyone else in the world. As Vanessa put it, “if you have the same ingredients, (you’re) going to make the exact same soup.” Travelling to new places and looking at the subtleties of different cultures will help you absorb new knowledge and inspiration. She adds that a part of the problem is our comfort in staying still, rather than “searching for that alternative voice” that can add new value to our work.

Budweiser Brand Book – Dave Watson

Nota Bene Branding – Vanessa Eckstein

Taking the Big Leap

Deciding to pursue design as a career is a brave, but gratifying choice. Dave offers an honest piece of advice to students on the fence, saying “If you don’t have a passion for design, you should probably choose something else to do in your life.” He also suggests building towards your dream job. “Have a five-year plan in regards to where you want to be, and figure out how you’re going to get there.”

Vanessa offers a different, but equally valid opinion, suggesting to start big from the get-go. “Aim high. Aim at your dream job. Because the truth is, why wouldn’t you? You might be the guy that gets it.”

It’s also important to see the job as more than a race, whether it’s against your peers or to the next deadline. In an industry this visual, it’s normal to compare yourself and your work to others around you. Mo encourages letting design and the craft take the wheel, rather than comparison. “Let (your) design speak to what you’re passionate about, what you believe in.” Then, the work will speak for itself.


48North Branding – Vanessa Eckstein

Life by Design

There’s no better time to consider a career in design. Design plays a role in every brand – big or small. There’s a need for creativity, experimentation and new perspective in the industry. At the Miami Ad School Toronto, we believe that design is embedded in every aspect of life. Design touches everything and has the power to influence real change.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in design, our 2 Year Design Portfolio program will give you the tools and the thinking to build a successful career. Contact us to learn more about the program.

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