Terrific essay from Michael Bierut on the parallels between stand up comedy and graphic design:
Ricky Gervais, in a revealing moment, asks, “Don’t you ever think, when we make people have this feeling of laughter, and they pay us money: what if they discover they can do it themselves?” The other comics are rather stunned at this. Seinfeld shouts, “But they can do it themselves!” Gervais, almost glumly asks, “Then why are they paying us?” Louis C.K. answers, “We’re a high octane version of it. We’re pros. They can play touch football, too.” And Seinfeld adds: “But that doesn’t hurt the NFL.” We live at a time when the tools of design are more available than ever before. What client doesn’t have a nephew who knows InDesign, or, better still, a spouse with a newly discovered enthusiasm for Powerpoint? Graphic design: anyone can do it, right? Well, yes. But the professionals still understand what it means to do something well. And that confidence makes its own statement.
I love that. I’m very interested in the craft of comedy. I’ve been reading a lot about improv and the art of the joke and continually see the parallels between the art forms.
And I especially love this little passage from Bierut’s piece:
Good design, like good comedy, is about surprise. But surprise can’t happen in a vacuum. It needs a context that establishes familiarity. If you respect your audience, you provide that context.
Good design is about surprise. We need to remember that.
“But I can’t help wondering what we might have said if we hadn’t been stopped. Maybe we were just around the corner from something thrilling. Isn’t that the nature of a live conversation? It halts, it stutters, it doubles back, it soars. We might have found a small nugget, something off topic or unexpected”
—Steve Martin, responding in The New York Times to his apparently boring interview at the 92nd Street Y a few weeks ago.
I couldn’t believe it when I read the article last week that the Y would be offering refunds because Steve Martin and Deborah Solomon spent the majority of the interview talking about art. It made me mad, to be honest. Martin’s latest novel is a journey into the art world. Ms. Solomon has written extensively about various artists. Art seems like the logical topic. I felt the entire situation was handled poorly and showed tremendous disrespect for both Martin and Solomon.
I enjoy Steve Martin’s response and think it’s thoughtful and eloquent. I want to read his book soon.
Platforms, Conversations and Design Surprises
I love it when I realize a concept I’ve thought about and written about for a few years can also be applied to something else. One of the principles in my manifesto is “The best work comes from the place between the known and the unknown.” When I wrote that, I was primarily thinking about tools and skill sets, meaning when your designs will be better when you are stretched to learn a new skill or tool because you will be more open to experiment, you will have a great chance of failing and thus, produce different results than if you stick to your usual tools, skills, and practices.
Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about this concept in regards to the designer and audience relationship. For years, design has been described as a narrative initiated by the designer, usually resulting in a one-way dialog—designer to audience. I believe this method of design is changing with the rise of interactive design and the design process is no longer one continuous narrative but a conversation between designer and audience.