From lines in a poem to the visuals of a painting to scenes in a film, impactful moments from art stir potent emotions within us, stimulate our senses, and embed themselves in our memories. These qualities separate the good from the great in art—and why artists strive to continually raise the bar for the quality, originality, and impact of their art. 

As designers, we are artists, and we share this goal. Whether we’re working on a video, brochure, advertisement, or website, we want to create an emotional response in the audience, evoke personal experiences, and produce something fresh and unique. 

At the same time, certain symbols and images are universally recognized and draw out similar responses, no matter the audience—and these common responses are what make an impact. Take Superman for example. He combines the qualities of the Victorian strongman and the Greek hero, but is also human and fallible—which allows us to relate to him. 

So, how can you take your work from simply artistic to iconic—and have the greatest impact on your audience? 

  • Focus on what we all share vs. what makes us different. Like the rest of us, Clark Kent is an average person with admirable qualities. But as Superman, he’s “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Superman symbolizes freedom, hope, and resilience through the combination of all his traits, ordinary and extraordinary. It’s the intersection of human and superhuman that makes him so appealing—we relate to his humanity, yet his amazing abilities hold us in awe. 
  • Be authentic. Your favorite song is your favorite because the lyrics, rhythms, and melodies represent something important to you personally; the songwriter’s words speak to you sincerely and directly. In any exceptional artistic work, authenticity shines through. You can feel what the artist is feeling and relate to it.
  • Originality is just that—original.  Lightning rarely strikes twice; emotional impact is hard to reproduce. You could paint the cutest puppy ever, and then try to paint it exactly the same way again. By doing so, you’ve undermined the emotional impact of the first puppy. Give your work the space it needs to stand on its own—and allow its originality to be valued and respected. 

Whether your medium is advertising, architecture, music, or even body paint, you want people to remember and relate to it. By aiming for an emotional response, being authentic, and allowing your work to stand out on its own, you create work that’s not just artistic, but iconic.