This is perhaps an unpopular opinion, but hear me out.

A few days ago, I came across this quote by James Randolph Adams:

Great designers seldom make great advertising men, because they get overcome by the beauty of the picture – and forget that merchandise must be sold.

It was listed on a webpage under “inspirational quotes” and it was at the very top of the list.

I love quotes. They put things into perspective for me and they inspire and motivate me to push on. But this…

I read this and I thought – I disagree with this quote. Look, let’s get the modern definition right, first of all. Quite simply, a designer is someone who communicates a message to an audience through visual means. An artist is someone who makes beautiful things, without necessarily having to send a clear message to the audience.

So coming from this definition, I  got a little upset at this quote and why it was at the very top of “inspirational quotes”. Because it didn’t inspire me at all, in fact, it seemed to be simply talking nonsense.

Let’s quickly pick it apart. “Great designers” mean, to me, a person who is extremely able to communicate a message clearly and beautifully to an audience. Carrying this forward, they should really be good advertising men, since advertising is about communicating a message – telling the audience to consume.

So this quote is actually contrary in itself. Great designers cannot be overcome by the beauty of a picture and forget to sell. Great designers will always do both at the same time. By definition, being “great” means they do it well.

But then I thought – I can’t be so wrong, I can’t be the only person who sees the fault in this quote. So I decided that I needed some background information.

I quickly looked James Randolph Adams up on Google and discovered that he comes from a different century. Born in 1898, he achieved success as an advertising copywriter in the early decades of the 20th century. Well, that is sufficient information for me to understand his quote. Advertising was different at the time. Designers were different at the time.

But I think that if you’re going to display this quote so prominently for all to read on the internet, you have to make sure that people are aware of the error of swallowing this quote whole without first understanding that it comes from a completely different era to the modern design world.

And as a last thought before ending this post – to be honest, I don’t think they should even display this quote anymore. It isn’t relevant and it isn’t even amusing for designers. Sure, publish it in a James Randolph Adams biography or a history of advertising. But it isn’t relevant in the world of modern design anymore.

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