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Things & Stuff

The Blog of Emily McDowell Studio

On Having Ideas: Make It Relevant

When I was a junior art director, I remember showing my creative director some print ads I’d designed. He pointed to the little abstract decorative element I’d created in the corner and said, “What is this and why is it here?” “Um… It’s just a thing. For visual balance? Because I like it?” He told me that wasn’t a good enough reason, and then we had a conversation about how every visual element in a print ad should always relate somehow to the content of the message. For example, if it was an ad for an airline and I created a decorative background pattern based on the shape of the plane’s windows, great. But if it was just something I randomly made as decoration, it didn’t work nearly as well.

I learned that when there was a strategic reason behind my artistic decision, it made the overall message more cohesive. I use that lesson a lot when I’m coming up with product ideas. For example, I’m designing a screen printed tea towel collection right now. There are lots of screen printed tea towels out there that have illustrations of cute animals on them, or patterns, or pretty flowers, but none of those things have a bigger reason for existing beyond being decorative. (This works great for some other brands, but not mine.)

Because my line is all about being insightful and relatable, I wanted the illustrations on my towels to relate back to their function/environment: cooking and the ways we experience the kitchen. So I started to come up with some observations and truths about kitchens, food and cooking, like: --You always hear people say cooking is good stress relief, but I think it’s kind of a pain and I'd rather lie on the couch and let someone else do it. --I bet a lot of people wish they were the kind of person who cooks to relax. I kind of do. --People take a ton of pictures of their food. A lot of them are terrible. --Every time I use my fancy blender, I feel guilty about not using it more. A lot of these observations didn’t really go anywhere. That happens. But a lot of them did, which is how I came up with the ideas for my tea towels. The first five towels are on sale now, and six more new styles are currently at the printer. They'll be added to the shop on January 1. Here's a sneak peek of a couple of the designs! Regrettable kitchen purchases tea towel design Things in the back of the fridge tea towel design