How Do You Go About Titling A Creation?

How Do You Go About Titling A Creation?

Moving on from last week’s topic of feedback, this week’s question is:

How do you go about titling a creation?  How important is the title?

I like using titles that have simple words that can paint a general picture of emotion or scene that people can connect to, but is vague enough to let people make their own interpretation within that framework. I’m speaking from mostly an instrumental music perspective here. I occasionally delve into more specifics, but on the whole I very deliberately keep my titles short and simple. This process just involves searching through my own story going on in my head or the emotions I feel and picking out those simple, but gently nudging words.

Through my creations I’m trying to get others to create their own thoughts (much like this blog and my other collaborative projects). I’m very much interested in what’s going on in other people’s heads. That’s why I’m generally careful with my titling. If I get too specific I risk getting into the telling mode, when generally I’d rather be in a more back and forth goading/listening mode.

Matt Hanna
Musician/Composer/Teacher/Ecommerce Strategy Consultant/Personal Coach/Lover of Thinking and Learning
Boston, MA

I have one big project I’ve been working on for a long time. Through all of my drafts, rewrites, and even beginning stages of design, I couldn’t come up with a name. I tried dozens of combos of words, descriptors, and symbolic language. It felt clunky and forced. Nothing seemed to work.

Recently, I described my project to a designer friend. I told her I didn’t know what to call it. She said, “What about ____?” It clicked. She began to mock up a cover design right then. “Oh? You hadn’t thought of that title?” she said. I was surprised by the obvious solution that had been right in front of me.

A title isn’t the only factor for success of a project. It can help give the creation a chance, or spark curiosity in people to find out more. Simple usually wins, but it all depends what kind of title the creation needs. It will be obvious and natural, but sometimes takes patience to find.

Drew Gneiser
Social Media Specialist at Feed My Starving Children
Social Media Strategist at CreativeMornings/Minneapolis

I love titles. They’re like magic in their capacity to add dimension to a piece of art work. That is, when they work well. It reminds me of the use of illustration in children’s literature: the title could be “symmetrical” to the piece (reiterating the information evident in the piece, e.g. Starry Night), “augmenting” (adding additional information, e.g. Nude Descending a Staircase–where the level of abstraction might otherwise have concealed the subject), or contradictory (subverting your original interpretation and causing the piece to live a second life through your reexamination, e.g. Basquiat’s Brown Spots (Portrait of Andy Warhol as a Banana).

My personal preference is for augmentation or contradiction; anything else feels like a missed opportunity. In visual art the moment of consumption is always in danger of being infinitesimal, the time it takes to walk the length of floor in a gallery, to turn the page of book or scroll down the results in Google Image. The title provides this opportunity to induce pause, to foment uncertainty, to create even only the impression that the viewer has not yet understood all there is to see. What’s that bit about never entering the same river twice? It’s like that, I think. You see the piece and it’s one thing, you read it’s title and it has become another, you read the curator’s little blurb and you’re seeing something new again. The piece pre- and post-sneeze could even change because you can change. Nothing is lost. The sensory and intellectual impact of your initial perception never existed on the canvas anyway; it was in you and you’ve simply added another.

In my own work I used to revel in titling, playing naively with the possibilities. From high school I recall a large, abstract piece composed of the destroyed and painted over remnants of a paper sculpture that I hated. Depending on its orientation its titles were alternately Burst Balloon Ride Over the Space Sphinx in Acid Rain and Fireworks or Mean Mollusk Makes Graffiti Across the Aquarium. Understatement was not my thing. Subsequently a reserve that felt then like maturity but looks now like cowardice or insecurity descended and there’s a slew of Untitleds. Now I find myself accumulating titles faster than I can hang them on anything. The title by itself is almost more perfect, evocative of so much without the limitations of having to be anything. My favorite amputee-title at the moment: The Cosmoloquists.

Colin Glanovsky
Art Educator

There are a couple of different reasons a piece will be titled one way over another. It begins with a feeling that the image gives to me. What I do with that feeling, as far as titling is concerned, depends on many factors. Sometimes the title will end up serious, if I’m in a serious mood. Sometimes humorous or sad. Sometimes the title is just artsy-fartsy, I’m embarrassed to admit.

There are benefits to titling as well as disadvantages. For instance, when a piece is titled provocatively it can draw attention. However, when titled just for attention-grabbing without delivering content, the fallout can be severe publicly and personally.

When a piece is titled it has the benefit of giving a clue to the viewer as to what it meant for the artist, however, if the artist’s intention is for the viewer to look and feel an experience for themselves, as if new, then a title can become a ball and chain of sorts.

I have chosen to title all of my public work. When I look at other artist’s “Untitled” titled pieces, I feel unfull in a way. I like getting the artist clue of meaning and so I give it myself.

Chuck Baker

In advertising, we talk about allowing the audience to “complete the circle,” meaning we leave something out for the audience to figure out, kind of like a punch line. The audience feels rewarded when they make the connection themselves–their “Aha!” moment–as opposed to having the punch line handed to them. I would argue that the same idea can be applied to titling artwork: If you leave room for your audience to figure out how the title relates to the piece, they will have a deeper appreciation for the piece because they had to work to connect the dots on their own. It’s as if the artist is inviting the audience to participate in the work, to some degree. Some of the most powerful art I’ve observed and experienced relied on the title to tell the story in this way. It makes me feel like I’m connecting with the artist on a more intimate level through a shared “inside joke.” For these kinds of creations, I would say the title is what makes the piece; it’s a work of art in itself.

Some art doesn’t call for a title. I don’t title many of my creations because I don’t think it’s always necessary for the type of work I do. If I’ve created something that should be taken at face value, that doesn’t have a deeper meaning, I think it can be somewhat redundant to slap a title on the work just for the sake of having a title. I don’t want to bore my audience with a title that simply states what they are already looking at. When I do title my work, I like to draw from relevant pop culture references that hold special meaning to me. It gives my audience a peek into my personality.

Lily Patterson
Graphic Designer
Seattle, WA

The title is your first impression to the outside world. As much as we’d like to think we don’t judge a book by it’s cover, we decide whether we will click on an article based on it’s title. Studies have shown a video has seven seconds to grasp your attention, otherwise people stop watching. We are a culture of first impressions and your title needs to be engaging, thought provoking and leave the viewer longing for more.

I don’t spend nearly the amount of time I should on my titles. Most of the time, I don’t even have a say in the title of an article. If it is up to me, I leave it till the end of my work. My work progresses and changes throughout the building stage. Sometimes, it isn’t until the very end until I know exactly the message I’m trying to send out. The title should capture an intrigue of that message.

I try and keep my titles simple and organic. My first thoughts are usually a more concise representation of the work. The harder I try to improve or embellish a title the messier it gets. Keep it simple. An editor once gave me the advice to save each article with a one word title – what is the simplest one word title that encapsulates the entire work?

The more work you do the more opportunity for trial and error. I judge the quality of a title by gauging reader response. Ask your friends, colleagues or even social media what they would title your work. Gather some ideas and let it fly!

Naima Montacer
Environmental Adventurer
Dallas, TX

When I was going through school I titled some of my work. Sometimes a title just comes to me or I really have to think about it. When I took 3D Design my freshman year of college my professor wanted titles of the projects being done. I would have to look at my piece and see what the essence of it was so to speak. Today I don’t really title much of my work. Much of the work I do today I don’t need a title. Sometimes if I work on something on my own I may come up with a title. The title isn’t an important part in my projects unless I want it to have a title or I need to title it for some reason. For example if I enter a competition I would have to come up with a title then. Usually a pretty ordinary title. I guess it all depends on the project and the situation when it comes to titling my projects.

Desiree Zielinski
Graphic Designer
Scranton, Pennsylvania

I never consider myself a word-smith or a master of word play but in the graphic design industry titling creations is consider copywriting. To most when you hear the phrase copywriting you think registering or protecting documents or images from plagiarism, but in the advertising world creative writers get paid to come up with catchy tag lines and creative brand names for products. As cool and exciting as that is I remember barely passing Copywriting class in college. I honestly thought I was quite good at it but my professor never understood my rationale behind my creative writing. I had the opportunity to work on Cheez-Its new snack product it was fun until everybody on the team was asked to weigh-in on the names that the copy writers had come up with. Names flew across the room. Zips! Bambas! Jangos!…the idea was to name this new snack that would sound flavorful and impactful at shelf but not offensive in culture. Eventually, they landed on Zings.

Now, a freelance designer I was asked by this creative director to brand a service project that would promote a new after school program. I only had 1 month. When I asked for the creative brief I realize they had no name for this program. In the design industry a creative brief can be helpful with coming up with designs and brand names. The creative process for naming a product can sometimes be a webbing of words that become carefully crafted, tweaked, revised and sometimes tested to a panel of consumers. With no official name for this freelance project I decided to brainstorm on some names like SlabLab; because they were using iPads to make movies or Project Zoom; because the students would be creating and directing a movie. After coming up with a few names I was later advised that the parents liked iMovie Lab. Even though, I’m not the best copywriter I do know a name can have extreme value on a brand. It can be the most creative part of the process and the most challenging; nonetheless, I wasn’t excited that they didn’t want to brainstorm further on this but it was worth trying. Whether you’re thinking about a name or title to inspire a piece of art or creation of something it shouldn’t be thoughtless.

Eban Taylor
Cincinnati, OH

Few of my creative works through game design need titling, but the times I need to create a user-facing title of some kind–say, the name of a level, system, or the name of a new character–I always first consider the game’s theming. From here, I’ll determine if the easy go-to’s are appropriate, which are alliteration, rhyming, and (gasp) puns. Plays-on-words are fun too albeit a bit more challenging. I’ll consider the look and function of what it is I’m titling in every case, and rarely do I think of a title before what it is I’m working on is done.

Josh Hufton
Senior Game Designer
Cambridge, MA

I think titling can be an important piece that ties into the artwork, and sometimes it just doesn’t have much importance. It’s very helpful when organizing a catalog, and when someone is talking about or understanding a piece and they have a reference point. I sometimes use titles to show how I feel about the art pieces. One work is called, “I should have drawn a bird Part 1, 2, 3” and another called “My kitty killed Bambi” which can be viewed on Smithsonian’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art facebook fanpage.

So in conclusion, I think it’s important for references to help describe the piece, but it doesn’t have to be considered as an extremely serious moment, since if it doesn’t feel like it’s the artwork’s name, it can be changed.

Paula B.

What do you think?


Photo by Matt Hanna