“Design is not performed. It is, rather, endlessly rehearsed. Designing is like practicing: one iterates; makes amendments; tries new avenues…Practicing is a snap, as one is allowed, expected even, to make mistakes. Practicing is a judgement-free zone. Mistakes are not allowed in concert halls.”
Salon has a great interview with Annie Clark aka St. Vincent ahead of her upcoming self-titled record. I especially loved this bit about her instincts and figuring out what music is:
My instinct used to be to say, “Oh, well, I intended this, and I meant to do that and all of this was pre-planned.” But I’m realizing now that — to be honest — music is a mystery to me. My own instincts, though I very much trust them now, are mysterious in their origin and ultimately I’m only ever trying to get at the sound that is here. And I’m going to try to bridge that gap between the theoretical and the actual. In the same way that I think that I really make pop music, I don’t think of it as pushing the guitar lexicon. I’m thinking, “How do I make something that’s interesting to my ears.” And I have some restless ears, and I now have a fractured attention span because I’m like living in the modern world. I have a more fractured attention span than ever, so I’m, like, how do I make this sound interesting to myself. I have to trust that if this sounds cool to me, it might sound cool to somebody else.
Grafik_BS is a project from Amy West to highlight the trend and style driven culture within the graphic design community:
Grafik BS was an experiment, set up to catch the attention of those who have come to rely on the aesthetic qualities promoted by new technologies within graphic design. They are a non-existant studio, designing stylish posters with meaningless messages, and no purpose other than to see if this was what people thought graphic design to be. A fake behance page for the studio received hundreds of appreciations, positive comments on the style of the posters, and even a job application for a position in the studio. The experiment proved that there is an online community practicing design, with the understanding that the entire process consists solely of applying style to anything.
While the conclusion seems a little stretched and overly simplified, the idea behind the project does show that the way we critique and consume design is mostly aesthetic-based despite our repeated cries that we are more than stylists. For a good laugh, be sure to watch the accompanying video.
Rory King and I discussed trends in a recent Dialogue on Sway that ties closely to this theory.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Graphic Design
“I am a designer—linguist Roman Jakobson famously quipped that asking a writer about literature was like asking an elephant about zoology—so I am inherently unqualified to talk about design.” —Michael Rock1
I’m starting to think I don’t really even know what graphic design is anymore. Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself reflecting on the graphic design profession—what we do and how we do it, our individual and collective output, and our contribution to the culture at large. I tend to turn thoughts like these over in my head every couple months—usually through the lens of my own work—but this time the thoughts were more severe, the thinking more expansive. The graphic design profession keeps getting wider and wider, our role constantly in flux, taking on new ever-changing responsibilities not to mention the occasional identity crisis (Graphic artist? Visual Communicator? Information Architect?) We can now spend just as much time designing systems and interfaces as we do typefaces and illustrations. Graphic designers can now work with moving images, interactions and sound just as much as line, color, and texture. I’m starting to think none us really know what graphic design is anymore. We’re just making it up as we go.
Falling back in love
Something interesting happened this week. I feel like I fell back in love with graphic design.
Somewhere along the way got disenchanted, I got interested in other things, I got burnt-out. Looking at typefaces didn’t excite me the way it used to. Suddenly conversations about design styles and possibilities—conversations I used to live for—didn’t interest me anymore. I’d find myself thinking, “Is it even worth anymore?”
But this week, my passion seemed to return. I think there are a few things I can attribute this to:
Jason Santa Maria’s great interview on the Happy Monday Podcast energized me in a way I hadn’t felt in a while. Pair that with his other interview on The Gently Mad where he waxes poetic on typefaces for a while and I realized what I had been missing.
I’d been reading Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job this week and though the book isn’t really about designing it is about caring for your craft. I wanted to care again.
Experimental Jetset released their new identity for the Whitney Museum. I’ve done very little work in identity design so it always seems to impress me the most, especially when it’s so thoughtfully executed. This is one of those projects that makes me sit back and go, “Man, I want to design something like that.”
The Newsweek.com redesign completely knocked me on the floor. In school, I thought I’d head towards a career in editorial design. Somewhere I got turned around and have made a career on the web. Seeing a site that blends these two paths so wonderfully gets me excited about the possibilities.
I firmly believe that what you look for, you will find. Maybe I was looking for something to help me fall back in love with design. I’m not really sure, but I know I found it. It was a good week for design. It was the kind of week I needed, one full of reminders why I’ve always loved this gig, sometimes I just get distracted. Thanks for helping me find my way back.
“Once a job transcends into craft and from there into art, a door opens. Our craft becomes a canvas for something new and exciting. It never leaves, never fades into the background, but becomes the strong scaffold upon which new things are built.”
I really enjoyed Jeff Lin’s short profile on filmmaker Ang Lee and his long journey to success. Lee worked for six years before he was able to get one of his films made:
Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine starting something now, this year, that you felt you were pretty good at, having won some student awards, devoting yourself to it full time…and then getting rejected over and over until 2019. That’s the middle of the term of the next President of the United States. Can you imagine working that long, not knowing if anything would come of it? Facing the inevitable “So how’s that film thing going?” question for the fifth consecutive Thanksgiving dinner; explaining for the umpteeth time this time it’s different to parents that had hoped that film study meant you wanted to be a professor of film at a university.
Lee kept working relentlessly because he loved the craft and believed in his work:
If you’re an aspiring author, director, musician, startup founder, these long stretches of nothing are a huge reason why it’s important to pick something personally meaningful, something that you actually love to do. When external rewards and validation are nonexistent; when you suffer through bouts where of jealousy, wondering “How come so-and-so got signed/is successful/got a deal/etc?”; when every new development seems like a kick in the stomach, the love of what you are doing gives you something to hang onto.
“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.”
The New York Times had a great profile on Jerry Seinfeld last week (but you probably already knew that). The piece focused on his post-sitcom life, most notably his obsession with doing stand-up. The whole piece is fascinating but really excited me was the look into his creative process and his approach to crafting a joke:
Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. “It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,” he says. “I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.”
When he can’t tinker, he grows anxious. “If I don’t do a set in two weeks, I feel it,” he said. “I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already? The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.”
“We don’t need more tools to make publishing faster. I can check in on foursquare with two taps of my thumb and it automatically generates a full sentence that’s streamed to my twitter. I can reblog a gif with a line of commentary on my tumblr while I’m waiting in line for a sandwich. What is scarce on the web are human-made, intentionally thought-out experiences. My stream is a rush of links all competing for my attention, and for most of them, I know what they’ll look like before I even click.”
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part III: The Future
This is part three of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 (You are here.)
Are we really afraid? Are we afraid that we’ll be out of jobs or are we afraid the design can’t solve all the problems we think it can? Do we think opening up our toolkit1 — improvising, frameworks, storytelling, and delight — will ruin our field? Or is it possible that these are skills that can help push the world forward, shining light into the darkness?
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part II: The Tools
This is part two of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 (You are here.) / Part 3
"The liberal arts have always been changing just as much as we have." —The New Liberal Arts 1
The liberal arts are those subjects that were considered essential for students to study. They provide the student with the tools they need to learn and a framework in which to navigate through the world. Somewhere along the way, we decided writing was something every student should learn. Public Speaking is a required course in most university programs. Could graphic design sit along side these liberal arts?
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part I: The Curious
This is part one of a three-part series. Part 1(You are here) / Part 2 / Part 3
"The teaching of art is the teaching of all things." —John Ruskin
The graphic design field is awash with contradictions. It sits in the awkward cross-section between service and craft. It’s at once a service given to others and a craft we hone for ourselves. It can be both invisible and influential, sometimes showing a point of view and other times remaining apathetic to its content.
“I believe the Japanese people have a basic artisanal disposition. There is a word in Japanese — kodawari — meaning being obsessed with the details, and it guides almost everything here.”
A list of people I admire who keep/kept pursuing their craft well past retirement age
I hope to be like these gentlemen when I’m 80, continually and relentlessly pursuing my craft and my passions.
- Woody Allen
- Massimo Vignelli
- Paul Rand
- Julius Shulman
- Milton Glaser
- Clint Eastwood
- Dieter Rams
- Erik Spiekermann
- Dave Brubeck
- John Berger