The positive power of negative thinking

Posted in Reporting on 19 October 2015 By David Hunt, creative Director

One of the great pleasures of a designer’s job is the buzz of a new brief. It’s when our excitement and enthusiasm bubble at the prospects of a new, creative solution.

At Emperor it’s that time of year when new briefs really start to kick-off as lots of our corporate reporting clients start to think about the themes, messaging and design of their next Annual Report.

The same but different

For the design team that process begins with a brief. And as we’re lucky enough to have worked with many of our clients for numerous years, that brief often includes a leaning towards an “evolution not revolution” approach – to create something new and improved that isn’t fundamentally different from its predecessor.

Non-designers could be forgiven for thinking that this sort of brief makes our task easy. However, I’d contend that the opposite is true. In fact, it presents designers with one of the most significant but common challenges that they have to face: to analyse, interrogate and criticise their own work.

We must look at what we did (last time) and find any flaws. If not that, then the opportunities for improvement, however small, to make this piece of work better than the last. These enhancements could be related to typography, hierarchy, structure, production, messaging or imagery to name just a few.


What’s important though, is that this process requires a fundamental shift of mindset that enables us to metaphorically pull-apart a project or piece of work that we’ve invested a large amount of time, effort and sometimes emotion in. Then we’ve got to rebuild it, creating new and improved elements along the way to make, in this example, an Annual Report that was better than the last.

In essence we’re required to lay aside our natural positive state and excitement over a new brief and adopt a more negative persona that can enable the self-criticism required to deliver what we (clients and designers) are all striving for: better.

The principle is probably best shown in a TV spot ( that Honda ran a few years ago about their new diesel engine – this was long before the current VW scandal, I hasten to add. Their commercial told us that they’d made their engine quieter and cleaner by looking at what had gone before and deciding it wasn’t good enough. The accompanying ditty urged us to “hate something, change something - make something better”.

Not bad advice and proof indeed that for us designers, a little negativity can actually drive innovation and have a positive impact on what we do for our clients.


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