Art is famously
intuitive, idiosyncratic: To explain it is to destroy it. This can also
be true of the more creative applications of design. But designers and
illustrators often have no choice, so they take a “create first;
rationalize later” approach (since clients often require rationales).
DESIGN = SCHIZOPHRENIA
art, design and illustration rely on a schizophrenic blend of
individualized and global expressions. There is an audience plus a
client plus a planet and the designer is accountable to all of them.
Then there is your very own ego, the artist within the designer with
whom you are ultimately allied. And then, I almost forgot, there is the
profession of design which needs to advance or it won't thrive. Doesn’t
the designer have that accountability as well? Are designers prepared
for this heavy lifting?
In her letter, Bantjes is clearly frustrated
by the laziness of design students when they come to her with ill-formed
questions. Ironically they are supposedly learning to become clear
communicators—or are they? If design education promotes the most
successful designers as two-dimensional, stereotyping them as exotic
talents. It is not stressing disciplined, critical thinking or the
development of common sense. The profession is “doing it to itself.” As
irrational as it sounds, the common sense of the profession (and the
institutions that depend on the profession) has always been that there’s
a small pond and it has a few big gloriously exotic fish frolicking in
it—but since the pond is surrounded by twelve-foot-high glass walls you
will probably never get anywhere near it. So students ask inane
questions while circling around what they really want to know, “How does
it feel to be in the pond with all those other really big fish?” In
reality, good design doesn't have a star system anymore, nor is it about
creating eye candy as it once was. The pond is drying up.
and innovation still thrive in our multicultural society, however, and
that’s still what sets the United States apart. And the most important
jobs of the future will be going to “creative” creators, according to
writer Thomas Friedman.9
And “creative” creator describes designers at
their very best. If designers only listen to teachers, clients, the
institutions or “the audience” they serve, however, they will probably
not be getting these jobs nor will they be playing a positive role in
advancing the profession. If they can’t determine their own core values,
challenge and develop them, act on them, it will be “garbage in,
garbage out”—beautiful garbage maybe—but garbage nonetheless. IS DESIGN DEVOLVING?
like art can be the leading edge of change. It’s the gatekeeper for
communication. You can identify any decade just by looking at the design
style it creates. Yet what about the last two decades? Currently, when
so much is changing, so much is in turmoil, where does design fit in the
HARNESSING THE IMAGINATION
As a child,
designer Christopher Simmons attended a small private school in Canada.
In the hallway a plaque read “The rules” yet the only rule below was “Use common sense.” The teachers, mainly Scottish and British, implanted
common sense in the still-developing minds of their students.
There was no running in the halls since common sense (as a teacher
reminded Simmons) said the halls were dangerous places. A door could fling open in your face. Simmons was reprimanded for not picking up
litter on the floor as he passed. His teacher pointed out, “You had the
opportunity to help the community but you didn’t. Use common sense.” In
this way Simmons internalized mindfulness as well as a proactive
attitude. He learned to practice self-reliance, to be an active player
in his communities. And it’s in this spirit that Simmons asks, “How do
we advance the conversation about design? Culture can’t be advanced by
measuring against the status quo. One of the roles of art and design is
to push beyond expectations. One of the roles of art and design is to
expand what is known by exploring new territory. One of the roles of art
and design is to invent—new languages, new forms, new experiences, new
ethics. What movement is design a part of? How dedicated are we to the
idea that creative work advances culture in addition to serving the
needs of people, the planet and company profits?”
Designers have an
advantage many people don't have—strong visual imagination—and the
possibility of becoming a “creative” creator. The talent to get people
involved in what they are looking at is extremely valuable. The
challenge is to make sure what they are designing actually adds value.
By getting your committee (i.e., your entire board of directors) into
harmony, you can develop a much faster, reliable way of assessing your
common sense (thanks, Aristotle, Buddha and de Tocqueville) and respond
appropriately in real time. Because most of the committee doesn’t use
language to communicate in their process it’s through meditative silence
that the chair is going to be able to bring the whole committee
together. And, if you think about it, this is a lot like the design
process.JFK, THE MAN NOT THE AIRPORT
Much of the JFK brand, built
in the mid-twentieth century, was about hopes and dreams. And it was
promoted in an era of less technology, less transparency. The public
canonized him when he was still alive, but now that we know a lot more
about the real man, his life, his failings and flaws we realize he, like
Umbrella Man, was unfairly stereotyped, two-dimensionalized. The more
you know about any person’s life, the more real they are to you, the
harder it is to be prejudiced for or against them. We are all just
humble individuals, each of us with a brain, blood and guts, chakras,
beliefs and values, talent and unique common sense. CANotes
1. The Umbrella Man, a film by Errol Morris, the New York Times.
2. Cecelia Holland, Saturday Evening Post 1969.
3. Common Sense, Wikipedia.
4. Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker J. Palmer.
5. Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt.
9. That used to be US, Thomas Friedman.
10. “So you say you want a Devolution?” by Kurt Anderson, Vanity Fair, January, 2012.