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Better Living Through QuarkXPress

If you’ve seen the latest Communication Arts, this year’s Photography Annual (be sure to check out Todd Eberle’s work, by the way, he’s got some great shots in there), you may have noticed an article in the back written by a high-profile designer, formerly of a very well-known firm (read it here.) Not unlike the First Things First Manifesto from a few years ago, here is yet another call to action for designers to make the world a better place.

I can think of no one who wants to make the world a WORSE place, though I am sure there are plenty who have little to no interest in dedicating their lives to making things any “better” on a grand scale. Opinions vary wildly on whether or not practicing members in the field of communications are obligated to do anything at all, aside from honestly earning fees paid by their clients.

This is a topic that borders on being tired and overdone—anyone who attended the Voice Conference last year knows what I mean. The fact is, though, the notion of design making the world a better place has been hanging in the air for quite some time, and its probably not going to go away. I’ve observed it since before entering school, and still, I’m at a loss to name any specific approaches or actions that designers have taken or can take to accomplish the nebulous goals bantered about here and there.

So I ask you—do you care to “make things better,” and if so, what SPECIFICALLY do you plan on doing?

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PUBLISHED ON Aug.26.2003 BY bradley
Armin’s comment is:

First off, Bradley is the latest outspoken dude to join the Speak Up author ranks. Hello Bradley.

Secondly, I wanted to highlight a few points within Terry Irwin's article. Since it's long and tedious I'm sure most people won't get through the whole thing. In no particular order:

"Almost overnight, conversations within our industry shifted from design to profits, from quality to quantity and to business models predicated upon unbridled growth and acquisition. More and bigger was unquestionably better."

"How do we go about developing a larger vision for design and the role it can play? I don’t have the answers, but I can share some ideas: Ask questions. Look outside the discourse of design for inspiration and learning. Remember that design is first and foremost a process of analysis and problem solving and isn’t always tied to the making of artifacts. Try to better understand how the world works. Remember that humans will always miscalculate and make mistakes; it’s part of being human. Try to think in longer horizons of time especially in terms of what you create. Remain a student for life."

This next one is my personal favorite. I'm being very sarcastic.

"Can I, in good conscience, continue to teach my students to be concerned about fractions of millimeters between letters, given what’s going on in the world? Is it the design equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?"

"As I write this article in April of 2003, I see Shock and Awe and Iraqi Freedom logos appearing on every major news network and note that each new military action comes branded and hyped with its own distinctive name and logo."

"I can’t help but ponder my own role and responsibility as brand designer as I read an article like this and wonder where designers’ own ethics and morals come into play when being asked to put a positive spin on something as globally devastating as war."

And to close with a golden seal:

"I believe design can play a pivotal role in the twenty-first century, and the multitude of opportunities available to us come with a shared responsibility to develop a larger vision about what it is we do. More importantly, it challenges us to envision the world in which we’d like our children and their children to grow up. "

On Aug.26.2003 at 03:57 PM
Rebecca’s comment is:

"...practicing members in the field of communications are obligated..." Umm, anyone watched the evening news lately? Or read a paper? Where's the morality in those communicators?

Personally, I left a large telemarketing/sweepstakes company for a smaller firm whose business practices I can get behind. Let those blood-suckers find someone else to pull unwitting customers through their sales process. Other than supporting moral corporate behavior via my 9 hours a day, I can't really devote much more time to saving the world. I guess it comes down to an individual's personal sense of balance between "helping" and "eating."

On Aug.26.2003 at 04:00 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Thanks, Armin! And well said, Rebecca!

Okay, here's where I'll start.

My brother is a doctor, a job that we can all agree is pretty critical--surprisingly though, not necessarily as fulfilling as you might think. But either way, medicine is a profession that requires "analysis and problem solving," and is all about how the world (and humans especially) work. Medicine requires a long period of graduate education, a residency, and frequently a fellowship. It's a tough field.

Well, I remember a conversation my bro had with a chemicals salesman (in his words, he sold "industrial adhesives," in our words, he sold "Elmer's on crack."). The guy INSISTED, absolutely insisted, that his job was fundamentally the same as my brother's because it involved "analysis and problem solving."

Dudes, that's pretty broad. Analysis and problem solving.

I think the first step in "improving" things begins with not declaring one ideology or worldview superior to another--that is, liberals and democrats are not necessarily "more right" than Republicans, for instance. Or that all commerce is evil and bad.

Here are a few ideas though, maybe the start of something because they're not fully fleshed out.

1. Packaging. Seen cellphone packages lately? DAMN. For a market where SMALLER = better, the boxes are wildly huge these days. Take for instance AT&T's phones. Not only are they unusually large, but there's a lot of plastic in 'em too. Use paper because it biodegrades and recycles easily, and use less of it. I'm sure this applies to other things.

2. Employee communications / training. Read any business magazine and eventually you'll come across the problems companies have with customer service. It's huge. HUGE. No one knows for sure how to solve it--corporations like Starbucks offer stock to even the lowliest bean-jockey, which is a good start. But bad customer service is everywhere--Best Buy, CompUSA, air travel, fast food, you name it. This is something that requires a program or a scenario, if you will, but it also needs a concrete foundation--books, manuals, whatever. Design 'em. There's an opportunity there.

3. Annual reports. I can think of only one corporation that makes even a small attempt to explain investing to the average person: IBM. And how many corporations employ babble-speak? Designers have a great opportunity to enforce clear communications, both on the financial end AND the newly popular responsibility end. As well as maybe explain how stocks work.

4. The government. How many forms does some branch of government send out to people, be they for taxes or student loans or something else? Clear 'em up. Those things are terribly confusing.

None of these are likely to win big time awards. These aren't film titling sequences, hip motion graphics for Target, designer lecture posters, or indie band CDs.

And yes, I do think there's value in worrying about the millimeters between letters--its what separates us from desktop publishers. It's also a quiet way of saying "we care about what we're saying here." People may not see it, but it does make a difference.

On Aug.26.2003 at 04:25 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

I'm rather put-off by all the natural systems talk in the article (who died and made Terry Irwin God?) but feel strongly that designers can do a lot to improve the world. Spec'ing environmentally-friendly materials, making an effort to not reproduce damaging social stereotypes, and donating my work to activist clients who can't afford me are three things I do on a regular basis.

On Aug.26.2003 at 04:31 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Damn right there are possibilities to improve the world. It's not impossible. It's the horrible generalizations and the tacit missive that "selling things BAD!" that pisses me off.

Environmentally-friendly materials is critical. It just is, because in the long run it saves money, and its better for the world we live in. It's a moral choice, sure, but in the end it becomes an economic one too. I think this could be interesting--we're designers, we like cool stuff, right? I wonder if there's some nifty materials we could use for packaging things that would be cheap, safe, and communicate a good brand message. There's gotta be SOMETHING.

Packaging is always interesting because you need it for visibility, you need

As to your second point, Rebecca, Kit Hinrichs commented in Step Magazine, and I think accurately, that advertising and graphic design arguably has a lot more sway in culture than perhaps anything else. Let's not get swept up by the potential for self-importance here (he certainly avoided it), but just accept it for what it is. There's an agency in St. Louis, my fair home, called FUSE dedicated to obliterating social stereotypes. Powerful stuff. Make a point of checking it out. Definitely got that St. Louis aesthetic going on, but its cool.

And I'm digressing into things that have visual appeal to me.

I don't know specifically what to do, but I'm pretty sure about a few things. First, be honest. Don't lie for your clients, and don't let your clients lie--and if they insist, well, drop 'em. Fast. I dunno...after that, everything's up for grabs and a personal choice.

On Aug.26.2003 at 05:02 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Yeah, that was smart. Don't finish what I was writing...

Anyway, I was saying that packaging is interesting because there's a need for product visibility, protection, brand promise, and product features. I've seen my share of cool boxes (the old Storm watches, some of the Nike watches too, Oakley sunglasses), but many of them have been wasteful.

I'd love to see a better way of packaging...I dunno, dish soap, or soda. Or light bulbs.

On Aug.26.2003 at 05:19 PM
Rick G’s comment is:

Damn, here I thought this was going to be a chance to bitch about how Quark 6 sucks just like Quark 5 and Quark 4 and Quark 3.3 did.

Now I'll actually have to THINK before I respond. =(


On Aug.26.2003 at 06:23 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Hey, thinking is good, Rick! =)

On Aug.26.2003 at 06:31 PM
Dan’s comment is:

Kit Hinrichs commented in Step Magazine, and I think accurately, that advertising and graphic design arguably has a lot more sway in culture than perhaps anything else.

Designers are incredibly powerful: We have a hand in creating the communications, experiences and artifacts that comprise our world and we have an increasing influence upon decisions affecting the quality of life for millions of people as well as the health of our planet. Terry Irwin (also borrowed for a flyer for the 2003 AIGA Conference)

Understandably, there will always be people who get really tired of this topic; people who are working really hard and don't want to have to worry about One More Thing on top of just meeting the deadline. It really is hard enough already.

It strikes a pretty intense chord of jealousy in me that Terry Irwin could quit Meta after 9/11 and spend awhile walking the dog and figuring out what to do with her life and how to make design fit into all of that. The rest of us have to try and fit it into an already packed life, and the rent is due pretty soon so don't think about it too long or hard.

Nonetheless, I think it IS my responsibility to fit it in. (It's my responsibility to myself, not to Design or to Consumer Culture or to anything else.) And to me, spec'ing recycled paper and soy ink isn't addressing the influence that Hinrichs and Irwin claim design has. They aren't even in the same ballpark.

It's more in the cultural impact of all this Stuff we make and what it tells people about themselves and what they should be doing or buying. Undoubtedly, the marriage of design and commerce gives our work both a huge audience and vast production budgets. Design gets most of the power we ascribe to it from this huge platform of exposure. Without corporate sponsorship, design is pretty limited.

I see some people, like Tan, talk about how exciting it is for design to have such a big role in contributing to culture at large. Other people, even some designers, would rather see this whole capitalism thing crumble and have us all go back to bartering for handmade goods amongst the rubble of industrial society.

Bradley, you did the right thing by asking what specifically we plan to do. It keeps people like me from abstractly ranting about the power of design with a capital-D. So I guess my answer is that I won't rely on my profession to provide all the meaning in my life, but I also won't ignore its influence on other people (good and bad). I'll tell the truth in my work (and both sides of the story if possible). And I'll keep questioning myself.

(See, I still managed to avoid giving concrete answers)

On Aug.26.2003 at 07:36 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

I hear ya, Dan.

Here's the thing. The responsibility to do the stuff Irwin talks about (Hinrichs was very succinct--his message was pretty clear, do good work) is pretty sprawling. It doesn't posit anything, not really anyway.

There are initial benefits, and long-term ones too, to doing environmentally safe and responsbile things--or, as I'm trying to suggest, doing them in such a way that is also inventive and advances a brand, etc.

The societal/social implications are huge too--that's why I put up the link to FUSE.

What would I do?

Do better work and insist that a client buy it or hit it.

Don't lie. Ever.

Good writing, good photography, good type, good paper, good printing. Good design. Do it well, do it with soul, do it smart, do it consistently. Stand by it. Treat design and communications as the specialized, critical factors they are--just like lawyers and accountants.

Be disappointed when I win awards because maybe winning awards just demonstrates an ability to create work that judges immediately accept. Sometimes the best work, the freshest work, doesn't test well...especially among other designers.

The "concrete answer" sometimes depends on the assignment at hand, I suppose.

More tomorrow.

On Aug.26.2003 at 07:51 PM
Day’s comment is:

I read the article when it came out and I must say I was kind of dissapointed.

Over half of the design work I do is for non-profits, foundations and "progressive" business, which I think is fairly unique in the design world (if you're like me, let me know!)

So when I read articles like Irwin's - which in theory should speak directly to specialists like me - I usually have a bunch of things to say.

First off, I'm not down with a lot of the talk about natural systems and whatnot. Yes, I think as a society we are at odds with "natural" systems, but I don't think that it necessarily follows that businesses should imitate "natural" processes.

I think we humans get in trouble when we make arguments and decisions based on "purity" - for instance, what is natural or what is articficial. Or that there is a dividing line between what is selfless and what is selfish.

Or that the world should be guided by only by ideals or only by the market.

The world is more complicated (and interesting) than that.

Second, to address the topic of the thread, I read alot about reducing waste and such in design publications as a way to make things better, but I think there's a whole range of things designers can do to contribute (you'll notice I didn't say "save the world"). Here's a (short) list:

- Making good design decisions and fighting for them makes the world a better place (I hope that lots of us believe that). If we ask ourselves, "Is this the way that I've designed[whatever it is] going to be worthwhile to the audience/user/customer?" and say yes, and really believe it, that's pretty damned good, even if it isn't "pure".

- Being professional (gaining and giving trust to your coworkers and clients, reducing the anxiety and desperation of your peers and subcons by paying them well, not breaking copyright, keeping standards high, etc.)

- Doing any pro bono work you do really well (and not just as a quickie "on the side" project)

- Avoiding taking advantage of our baser motivations (i.e. using sex appeal to sell beer - all such examples are difficult and obviously subject to personal interpretation)

- If you're rejecting a client or employer for personal ethical reasons, telling them why - so they understand that they way they do business is keeping them from accessing (your) talent. Choosing clients / employers that you feel good about working for (an easy thing to say, super super hard to do in practice, I know)

Anyway, I'll stop there with the list.

I read at least one visitor warn against self-importance, and I think that's a good point. We're not the moral arbiters of culture. But we do think about cultural cause and effect more than many people. And we do have some levers we can use to influence the way things unfold.

I will say that I think that there are a larger percentage of good, paying clients that want to do more than make money than we designers think there are.

I bet if everyone who signed the Adbusters version of "first things first" went out and made some really innovative proposals to do what they imagine to be worthwhile design, they'd be surprised at how many cheques got signed. But that's just my opinon.

On Aug.26.2003 at 08:10 PM
Dan’s comment is:

Treat design and communications as the specialized, critical factors they are--just like lawyers and accountants.

You know, even though we all know design is more than just the visual side of things, I think in general when we talk about it that's what we're thinking about. It's what makes us distinct to clients: we're the ones who can make it look better--WAY better--than they can. Honestly, all the strategy and creativity and understanding, it's definitely a big part of what we do, and we keep trying to improve. But I think the thing that gets us in the door is the visual expertise.

So it's understandable why there is such contention surrounding this type of discussion. It's almost like we're trying to sneak in all this other stuff (environmental, social, typographic responsibility) and we are just seeing how much we can get away with before we get reigned in.

I'm really trying not to be cynical, just figure out why this sort of "responsibility" topic has so much baggage attached to it. Would our clients hire us to communicate for them if we didn't also have the ability to also make them look cool/beautiful/hip...?

On Aug.26.2003 at 08:16 PM
Gahlord’s comment is:


I've been trying to keep my trap shut because I don't want to spill beans I don't have. But...

This is what I plan to do.

Develop a series of posters that use information design (hopefully worthy of a positive-sounding Tufte sneer) to highlight and/or explain a local issue (i.e. an issue which has an impact on the lives of those who see it). Pay for the production of said poster with my own hard earned cash. And spend my own damn time posting it around my moderate-sized town (Burlington VT). With any luck, the posters will raise awareness about the issue broached in said poster. Maybe I'll do a supporting website.

This involves 1) my time (both design and research) and 2) my money.

If yer ideas for making the world a better place don't involve those 2 things then yer not doing much.

free beer in vt,


On Aug.26.2003 at 08:27 PM
marian’s comment is:

I can barely stand this topic. NOT because it is tired or worn-out or tedious, but because it feeds directly into my current career crisis. I totally hear where Terry Irwin's coming from (though I, too, am a little older and have just left the company i started). I don't think it's about "saving the world" or "responsibilities," I just think that for some of us there is a nagging doubt: "Is this worthwhile? Is what i do contributing to a greater good or a greater evil?" This topic is huge, and it's both personal and political.

spec'ing recycled paper and soy ink isn't addressing the influence that Hinrichs and Irwin claim design has. They aren't even in the same ballpark.

Correct. Her article is probably biting off more than it can chew, as it touches on too many things, but I think that the nut of it is in essentially a "holisitc" approach to design thinking. Yeah, I know, "barf," but what she's saying is that who you work with and how, and how you influence them influences all of us and contributes to the society we have now and the one we'll have in the future. And it's not about individual jobs/projects/clients but about everything you do.

OK, so, depending on your politics, that can play out in a number of ways. Her politics are pretty clear, but she makes an assumption that designers somehow share her values. I do, but lots of people don't, and that's why people get their backs up over this. They hear "you shouldn't work for Nike, you should design posters for anti-war rallies and emergency escape routes for tall buildings," and they say 'fuck you." But if you believe that selling the war (or shoes or softdrinks) to the American People is a good thing then you're in the clear. You can ply your craft to what you believe is the greater good, and sleep well at night.

But she came from a position where she didn't believe in what she was doing. And she tried to make it different, but it didn't work, so she ended up in a crisis. That's totally fair, and I also think it's totally fair for her to write about it, tell what she did to exorcise her demons and ask people to think about it.

And yeah, she's lucky. She's made her money and her reputation, so now she can afford to make different choices. Those of us who are still struggling to pay the mortgage or the rent have it much harder. Sometimes it's ethics vs. survival (Do I take the piece of bread from the old man to feed my kid?), and that's a really tough place to be in.

But ultimately I think she's right: the decisions we make on a daily basis contribute to what our society is and what it will be and we should work toward our own version of "the greater good" whatever that may be, if only for our own damned sanity.

On Aug.26.2003 at 10:34 PM
Day’s comment is:

we should work toward our own version of "the greater good" whatever that may be, if only for our own damned sanity.

Hear, hear. I think losing the connection between what you do for a living and how that impacts the larger world can drive a person slowly crazy.

I think the stereotype of the ad exec that drinks and carouses to excess is doing so to supress the alienation and anxiety they have around not believing a single word they've printed, and selling stuff nobody needs.

(like my little cheezy scenelet? hollywood here i come!)

Doing work you can get behind, and struggling with what on earth that could possibly be (and risking being wrong), is the good stuff, in any profession.

I'd also have to admit that this is the kind of angst that succesful designers can afford to have. But not everything that is bourgeious is crap. I'd be curious to hear what a designer just coming out of school would say about this thread (You're lucky to be working, shut up?).

It's an obvious thing to say, but it's peculiar doing creative things for money, isn't it? (Not that designers are the only ones doing that, by a long stretch)

On Aug.26.2003 at 10:59 PM
Jeff’s comment is:

I'm saving the world from ugliness! Well a few little patches of it in North Wales.

Most of my clients are small businesses—good people who've put their balls on the line to make their families' lives better or follow a dream. I get a tremedous feeling of worthwhileness as I help them succeed.

On Aug.27.2003 at 04:43 AM
Kevin’s comment is:

Hello from the Netherlands, I've made it over safe and sound. Haven't posted in a long time due to the chaos that is my life right now but just had to add to this discussion.

Hey Day, I work like you!!! And not to get into a shit flinging contest over who's the better citizen, but after I quit my 9-5 three years ago, I have worked almost solely for non-profit, cultural, educational and activist organisations. I'll admit there was one big commercial contract in between. Granted I live pretty cheaply, but this approach is quite possible. Hell, I made it to the Netherlands from Montreal!

Now don't get me wrong, its not that I believe commerce is bad, but I figure there are many other things that require my skills more. Things I understand much better than commerce, and things I enjoy doing more than commercial advertising.

On top of that, since my arrival here, one thing I have really noticed is the quality of the design in cultural/educational material, whereas the majority of the commercial design isn't much different than in NA(except for a generally more refined approach to typography and a bolder use of colour). I heard that the Dutch government spends as much per capita on their cultural/scientific ministries as the American government spends on National defence. Imagine that..... Big reason for me to stay here if I can, I won't have to sell my soul and still be able to live designing beatiful stuff for things that I believe matter.

PS, I know it ain't great, but you can check out the Thesis I wrote last year about design and responsibility here

On Aug.27.2003 at 06:06 AM
Michael B.’s comment is:

This is a good thread. Okay, here's the reality check. Most graphic designers go into the field not to change the world, but because they like making things look cool. (Insert any definition of cool you want.) And most graphic design is done for clients. So most designers spend their time working with the visual appearence of their clients' messages to achieve their clients' goals -- not their own messages or their own goals.

This self-denial can get frustrating after a while. Sooner or a later, some designers ask, "Hey, what about me?" There are different answers to this question. One time-honored answer is to figure out a way to use the design process to advance a personal aesthetic, often one that overwhelms the message or its goal. (Insert a long list of famous designers here.) Another one -- and that's what this thread is about -- is to decide that the messages and the goals themselves are faulty, and that it's the responsibility of the designer to rectify their shortcomings. This is an appealing idea for us poor designers: hey, who doesn't want an increasing influence upon decisions affecting the quality of life for millions of people as well as the health of our planet.

Forgive the cynicism, but my question is: if you buy this, are designers up to the task? The world isn't changed by the people that hang the punctuation and spec the soy-based inks. It's changed by the people that imagine the goals, and come up with the messages that advance them. In my experience, these aren't your typical graphic designers.

It's interesting to me that some of the designers who have

been truly influential in projecting big ideas to the larger world are people like Tibor Kalman or Richard Saul Wurman, people of intelligence and passion who were not trained as graphic designers in the first place, and who would, in fact, deny being graphic designers at all.

If graphic designers really want to change the world, are the right people becoming graphic designers?

On Aug.27.2003 at 08:30 AM
Armin’s comment is:

This has indeed been a good thread. In my opinion this is the best question I have heard for all those who think graphic design can save the world:

"are designers up to the task?"

No, they are not. At least not yet and at least not as a group nor as a profession. Myself included.

I don't believe graphic designers can change the world as we so proudly proclaim. Again — not yet. There are way too many loose ends whithin our profession to be able to claim that we can change the culture with the snap of our fingers or better yet with the snap of QuarkXPress. We must settle a lot of things internally before we can go out there and save the world from the inevitable doom we like to envision.

Shit man, as a group we haven't even been able to find a definition for what we do. Granted, it's a young profession and it's ever-evolving and blah, blah, blah... we have not stepped up to the plate and established what we are as a group, nor what we can do to help businesses. Sure, some people are ahead of the game and have established sound practices with great clients, but why is the fight for "the understanding of design" so fucking hard? Because we, ourselves, still don't understand it. We are all over the place and it is confusing, not only for us but for the rest of the world. Graphic Design — huh, what the fuck are you talking about? Is that like comics and stuff?. Sad.

What am I doing personally?

I rarely talk about my motivations for starting Speak Up on the site, but I'll tell you something. This, this thread right here is why I started it. So that we can air out issues like these, I don't intend to change the world through Speak Up, I would be out of my mind if that was my intention. My main purpose is to get people from inside the profession thinking, talking, discussing; getting depressed, energized, motivated — whatever. To believe in the power that design could have if we only got our shit together.

And unlike many of my rants, this is only halfway directed at the AIGA as our governing entity. This rant is directed to me, to you, to anybody who reads it. Why aren't we willing to point out shitty designers doing terrible work, wasting paper and resources and tell them to their face "you shouldn't be a designer, you are not helping our profession as a whole"? It's sad that the standards for what a graphic designer is is so broad that anybody with a computer can practice it.

Like I said, this is a work in progress and one that can only have positive results. I strongly believe in the effect we have over the cultural landscape, we just have to work harder at it in letting the rest of the people know about it.

On Aug.27.2003 at 09:24 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

Well, Michael B., I agree with much of what you say; at the end of the day, a set of posters won't change the world, but--but--people and ideas certainly will. At best, graphic design catalyzes action, fuels passion, inspires thought or emotion...whatever. Even that's a tad high-falutin' for my liking.

Okay, I certainly went into this business because I had the ability to make things look cool, and well, right now I continue to do it because I like making cool stuff that I enjoy looking at. Shallow, or just honest?

It's like anything else--the meaning is in what you make of it. I find that there's quite a challenge in being designer, and I think there's an opportunity to DO a lot with it, there's plenty of room to positively affect business and other things. Its in this challenge that I find my happiness and my personal "meaning"--something about the struggle and conflict between creation, which is inherently personal and private, and still answering the needs of those who are paying me to do something in the first place.

And I think its a load of shit for anyone to preach and prostletyze about what is and is not meaningful. That's up to you to figure out; if you can't, you have no one but yourself to blame, and if you need someone or something else to validate what you do, how the hell will you be happy anyway?

I wish that when people had a mid-life crisis they'd buy a V-Rod or a Dodge Viper and pick up a nubile young member of the opposite (or same) sex rather than write preachy articles in good publications.

And one more thing! God forbid I be quiet.

I haven't yet commented on this "natural systems thinking." There's a reason for the term "ivory tower" because IT EXISTS. There's a world in which people play with theory and make assumptions and predictions based on abstract ideas. But when an insurance company comes to you with a missive to generate more sales and market share for a line of products they offer, no amount of "systems thinking" or "waste/energy flows" is going to make for a successful project. Ultimately, there's only one thing to do:

Just Do It.

On Aug.27.2003 at 09:27 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

Armin, it's funny...I was talking with a friend last night and I was considering starting another thread that said many of the same things that you're saying now. I'll write something up if my day continues to be as slow as it is now and maybe post it later on or tomorrow.

On Aug.27.2003 at 09:32 AM
amanda’s comment is:

we should work toward our own version of "the greater good" whatever that may be, if only for our own damned sanity.

here here. I just think that sometimes it can be overwhelming to see so much crap going on in the world and feel like being a designer is a little insignificant. If we break this huge mission of saving the planet down into little parts, and do what we can factoring our own personal lifes & situations, then we are making an effort. Just got out of school & need any job you can get? Do a pro bono for a non profit to gain portfolio material. Have a family to feed and focus on and your day job already takes alot of your time? Pick something that they can get involved in if they want (say, hanging up posters about local issues). Or take pride in your professionalism at your job. Have a nice cushie position that pays you a super salary and regular hours? Get off your ass and donate some time and money to something worthwhile.

I think everything we do counts, and every little thing gets put towards a bigger thing. I am a freelancer, and sometimes I have pockets of time when projects slow down. Which is great because I have time to build my illustration work, but also not so great because cashflow slows down. Last year during one of these times I created 8 illustrations for the local woman's shelter cookbook, pro bono. I think it was the most rewarding project I did that year, and it doubled sales having new illustrations on the cookbook they had to sell to raise funds.

I wish I had more time to chitter about this.

On Aug.27.2003 at 09:37 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Let's talk about this idea of "making things better".

I once heard a study on NPR comparing the socialist healthcare in Canada versus the American system of healthcare. The conclusions was that although CN's system was set up to benefit more of society, America's system driven by capitalism and corporate corruption was ultimately more beneficial to the greater public. Their point was that the greed for financial benefits in America drove countless efforts in biotech innovations, pharmaceutical development, and breakthroughs in treatment and surgical approaches to treating patients. The fact is, if you live anywhere outside the US, and you contract a fatal disease, there's no doubt where you should go to "make things better".

So, to tie back to this discussion -- lets compare two designers. One works for a nonprofit healthcare foundation, generating materials for public healthcare awareness. The other designer works at Smith/Kline Beecham pharmaceutical -- designing materials for a new to market, lucrative, very expensive line of interfuron chemotherapy drug that will get distributed to millions over the next year. Now, which designer is truly affecting the greater public good here? The one with the better intention, or the one who is part of a product that will save millions of people--despite its manufacturer's greedy motives? I clearly think it's the latter.

Capitalism and greed gets a bad rap because it's a convenient. bandwagon. Socialism good, corporate greed bad. Is Nike bad to use Malasian children to assemble shoes? Of course. But how was the children's lives better before or after Nike came to their village?

And about American defense spending and military presense in the world. Yes, it's an enormous sum, and convenient to say that we should be spending some of those funds to benefit art and social welfare. But our defense spending is responsible for the employment of about 50 million workers in this country -- not to mention the billions of dollars of revenues that it brings to third-world countries with American military bases. What about those benefits and those communities?

I'm resentful of the suggestion that in order for a designer to do good in the world, he or she has to reject commercialism and live a frugal existence of public service. I think it's a very idealistic, simplified, and obtuse way of understanding global economies, commerce, and public welfare.

I think there are many other factors, and many other just as effective ways.

On Aug.27.2003 at 10:12 AM
Day’s comment is:

This is an awesome thread.

I'm planning writing a book about so-called "worthwhile" design.

It's about what different people think it is, why some designers focus on it (and why others don't), who does it, how it's different from most commercial design, how to find clients, etc.

This debate give me hope that the book will be worth the effort. We don't have all the answers, but we seem to be really interested in the questions.

If you're interested in the book idea, or are interested in other sites that have threads like this one, drop me a line.

On Aug.27.2003 at 10:46 AM
damien’s comment is:

I'm resentful of the suggestion that in order for a designer to do good in the world, he or she has to reject commercialism and live a frugal existence of public service. I think it's a very idealistic, simplified, and obtuse way of understanding global economies, commerce, and public welfare.

Abso-fucking-lutely. I've never been in more accord with my man Tan. I was worried that those who are not able to change their lives dramatically or have responsibilities that prevent them from dedicating a majority of their time to non-profit activities, would not speak up.

You can make your difference from anywhere.

I agree that most designers don't consciously try to make the world a worse place, but too many designers are unconscious when working and it all begins to add up. We need to wake up and be more aware of shit outside our world of design and the impact of it - which is some of what Irwin was saying.

There's nothing worse than seeing somone go through a mid-life crisis and along the way ditch their family for a nubile young member of the opposite (or same) sex and further more buy a shitty American-made car to promote it.

I'd rather read someone's intelligent, provocative and based-on experience rant about what they're thinking about than watch the former mid-life crisis.

As its been said before, by someone more eloquent than myself - progress comes from unreasonable people, they're the ones who try to change the world, while reasonable people adapt to it.

Bradley's comment about "Just Do It." is for those who just wish to adapt. The point is that you don't have to just do it - question it and certainly question people who suggest otherwise.

On Aug.27.2003 at 11:01 AM
rebecca’s comment is:

Marian, I think you got it exactly right. And Day/Kevin, now that I think about it I don't think I've made a single cent from a for-profit client in my seven-year career. That wasn't a choice, it's just they way things have worked out for me—but in case you're wondering, Tan, I manage to live in a nice house, eat great food, put money away for retirement, and sport a pretty sweet wardrobe. My car is a different story.

On Aug.27.2003 at 11:25 AM
Bradley’s comment is:


Okay, I need to speak more clearly. I don't think I'm being clear here and you're getting the wrong impression from me.

First off, this thread was going to get boring unless somebody stepped in and backed Irwin, if only a little bit. So...

Sure, change comes from unreasonable people with unreasonable ideas--but he or she who recognizes the shape and form of reality as it stands has a much better chance of chaning it than one who lives in their own make-believe world of what they think "should be."

Airy blue-skying and substanceless but academically-fortified rambling about "natural systems thinking" breaks down like any other theoretical strategy when shit hits the fan (i.e. a real project). This is what Paul Pendergrass would call "babble speak." Sounds smart. Looks smart. Means little to NOTHING. There's nothing new about designers going beyond their own profession; the moment you start working on a client's project, you're suddenly in their world. Irwin's priveleged tirade does not constitute change in and of itself; its main benefit is getting people pissed off at its existence and then actually DOING something on their own. But just because it catalyzes thought and action doesn't make it inherently worthy; if I step on dog shit, I'll be "catalyzed" to clean my shoes off.

There's a difference between evolving and adapting. I choose to evolve. "Evolve--or die."

So, what to do?

First off, just to clarify--DO NOT be reasonable. I don't think anybody here really believes that.

Just Do It. That's right--do it. Do something, just get off your ass and start somewhere, anywhere, don't be paralyzed. There's not a better opportunity out there, because chances are you've got one right now. What are you working on today (I am obviously working on nothing--it's that pre-AR season lull kickin' in), what can you DO with it that's a little different? I'm not saying turn a coupon into the print version of Lawrence of Arabia, but on the other hand, just because a piece is small and insignificant doesn't mean that there's no opportunity.

THAT's what I mean by just do it. All the talking in the world about looking at things differently and thinking differently is just that--talking and thinking.

Sadly no amount of editorials, magazine articles, and design conferences will create the opportunities we dream about. We just need to look at the ones we have on a consistent, daily basis and take them more seriously. It's a chance to do better work, send a message, build a brand, whatever you want it to be. But if you save all your energy for "something better," you'll probably be waiting forever.

On Aug.27.2003 at 11:31 AM
Tan’s comment is:

very well said Bradley. bravo.

and I dunno rebecca...your car has potential. you should drop it about an inch, paint it metallic purple, and put a purple neon tube below it so it looks like it's hovering. like this sweet thing.

On Aug.27.2003 at 11:40 AM
Sam’s comment is:

For what it's worth, my mother's an example of socially responsible work that is also profitable. She's a freelance writer with only philanthropic clients--a school for the blind, an institute that treats victims of war trauma, and in the past halfway houses and similar organizations. She makes what anyone would consider a very good living. So it's possible.

On Aug.27.2003 at 11:45 AM
Dan’s comment is:

...no amount of editorials, magazine articles, and design conferences will create the opportunities we dream about. We just need to look at the ones we have on a consistent, daily basis and take them more seriously.

The thing that surprises me every time is when I'll crank out a little filler paragraph to fill some space and tell my client, "This is where you put what YOU want to say... this is just some filler text." And they say that it's great as is. So my question is this: Does anyone care what's being said here? Or beyond the simple information that has to be communicated, is there room for my voice and opinions, as long as they're not too extreme?

So instead of asking for copy, maybe I should take the opportunity to write copy I believe in. Copy that doesn't manipulate a consumer. That doesn't reinforce stereotypes. That is honest and not misleading.

Maybe I should look at myself more fully as a "communicator" and not so much as someone who regurgitates the information beautifully and clearly, but without soul.

On Aug.27.2003 at 12:01 PM
Bradley’s comment is:


So, your clients approve of using "Lorem ipsum"! That's awesome!

Just kidding.

I think that's a fucking great idea. Next time you have the chance...do it.

On Aug.27.2003 at 12:23 PM
Sao_Bento’s comment is:

God Complex: A mental disorder in which someone believes they have God-like powers that enable them to impose their will upon the universe.

Narcissism - The innate stereotypic acts associated with the trait include flaunting body posturing, expansive arm gestures, bowing, colorful self-adornment, and a natural attraction to the limelight of personal recognition. Individuals of the pure N type are competitive but non-aggressive in their strivings for recognition. (sound familiar?)

On Aug.27.2003 at 04:16 PM
Eric’s comment is:

ok. third time i've tried to post today. on vacation for the week and i tried to input from one of those hotel tv web browsers. what a nightmare. armin, let me know when you get the extra time for webtv compatability.

...Bradley, congrats and welcome. excellent thread.

I wanted to add that there's an essay in the Helfand book, Screen, about Manifesto and the lack of concise and critical thinking. She goes on to mock some recent stuff, but it's a nice essay. Hope you have a chance to read it and participate.

On Aug.27.2003 at 08:29 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>armin, let me know when you get the extra time for webtv compatability.

Too busy saving the trees, webtv will have to wait.

On Aug.28.2003 at 08:21 AM
Tan’s comment is:

yes, welcome Bradley.

Any chance of getting Dana or Koval to post? Tell Dana that Beirut is a regular visitor and always lays down the law -- that'll probably get him on.

(Of course that's not true -- in case you're lurking Michael -- just a cheap ploy.)

On Aug.28.2003 at 10:59 AM
graham’s comment is:

these meditations on what graphic design is and what it can do are only a good thing: i know what graphic design is (making visual work for a client) and i do know that it is a very very open field. this doesn't suggest that we should stop wondering about it. it is because it is so clear and simple that it is entirely worth considering, remaking, redefining and undefining. it is also because in my heart i know absolutely that this wondering is peripheral to the work itself.

graphic designers possess the means to make things. like a carpenter who is able to make their own home a better place, graphic designers possess the means to make things that can influence, are reflective, can agitate or calm, that can inspire thought.

the institutionalisation of design minimises the importance of working, of producing things, and maximises the presence of ego, desires concrete definition and encourages a systemised and narrow remit for the activity of designers (any kind of designer-any kind of maker, actually).

does anyone driven in the first instance, the first rage, to make this work honestly expect to end up with the same 'status' as a doctor, a lawyer, a company director, a politician? why? why the fuck?

there is nothing simpler and it is not confusing: you can make work for clients that does not satisfy you (if that's what you need or expect from it) and at the same time make work for yourself that says the things you need to say. the ways to get those things into the world are obvious-we do it every day. we have more opportunities to do things and get them out than most. why is this confusing? why is it hard? is it perhaps because some are looking for something in graphic designers that for the most part isn't there? is it?

if as many graphic designers actually made these world-changing things as speak about them then the streets would be filled. they are not. so what are we speaking about?

the idea of graphic design has become an anachronism, and the people who will be making it in 5, 10 years will look back at this and have no idea what we're babbling about. they will not have gone through the drab machine that is current design education, they will not expect or demand a career from it and they will certainly see no difference between the work they make because they have to because it is all they can do, and the work they make for money.

what do we have to say to them?

On Aug.28.2003 at 12:20 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Quick plug. An old Thirst/Thirtype collaborator is part of an event that is related to all this talk. It's posted in the news and events section.

Graham, you are too good. I like what you say. Can't agree with everything, but I definitely like how you see things.

On Aug.28.2003 at 04:58 PM
Day’s comment is:

Here's a thing I wanted to drop into this thread, since Paula Sher came up recently.

She has this thing about designers needing to become way more involved directly with clients.

I won't go into why (read her book, Make it Bigger), but it seems to me that one of the reasons many designers are dissatisfied with what they do - in terms of social impact and otherwise - is that they're not as involved in setting the goals (etc.) of projects as they could be.

If designers were consulting directly with institutional leaders more often (as opposed to being buffered by account managers, agencies, communications consustants, etc. - and I know that not all of us on this site have to deal with much of that buffering), I wonder if this thread would have a very different tone?

I think we'd still be asking "how to make a difference", but there would be less of a sense that the forces that shape our industry are Out There (which I kind of get from a few of the postings) because we'd be collaborating directly with the decision makers and the cheque writers.

Anyway, to get back to Sher, she advocates that we clear away the clutter of intermediaries between us and our clients, and gives some advice on how/why to do that.

On Aug.29.2003 at 10:56 AM
Stephen’s comment is:

Dan you hit the hail on the head. I believe we are profession in change. Not only are many of the distractions that have plagued our profession has for the last 15 years leveling off but the industry as a whole is changing.

Al Rise and Jack Trout gave new light to the concepts behind marketing. Subsequently there have been a slew of well thought out books to move the conversation along. Only the focus has shifted to the higher level of brand management.

My point, marketing, advertising and public relations are all tools of brand management. We are not just producers of communications anymore. The single need to manage the brand makes designers pivotal contributors to the branding process.

We all change the world every day. The question is can we, designers, control the change? Clemet Mok has boldly purposed we all work in a similar process. There are countless other members of AIGA who also work to change perceptions and realities. In order to be one you only have to take your riddlen, stop complaining about your software and FOCUS.

On Aug.29.2003 at 11:08 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

>the idea of graphic design has become an anachronism, and the people who will be making it in 5, 10 years will look back at this and have no idea what we're babbling about.

>I think we'd still be asking "how to make a difference", but there would be less of a sense that the forces that shape our industry are Out There because we'd be collaborating directly with the decision makers and the cheque writers.

Ooooh, this thread is so, so good. Welcome, Bradley. Welcome welcome welcome. I love the work you guys do at VSA and it is an honor to share this space with you.

Okay, back to discussion: surprise, surprise, I agree with Graham. When the AIGA Design Leaders were at Harvard two weeks ago, an interesting discussion began. And actually, it was started by Clement. He observed that we, as a professional group (not the AIGA--designers as a totality) seemed to be constantly insecure and apologizing for our inability to be making a difference.

I have been thinking about this alot. In many ways I think it is important to reflect and to challenge our ideas about impact--but, like Graham, I think we are talking to ourselves. Yes, we need to be "honest." Yes, we need to be "authentic." Yes, we need to be free of guile and manipulation. But in many ways, that should be a given.

Everything we do, everyday, has the impact to change. If we don't do that--even if we tell ourselves that "our clients won't let us," we are just copping out. I work directly with the "decision makers" and the "cheque writers" and if what I do makes no impact or furthers the downfall of society or as Shawn Wolfe has said about Landor's work on Wrigley and Sterling's (my) work on Burger King: "in a shitstorm of packaged stuff that I am habitually processing, what is one more American icon down the chute?" Then this is my fault. And that is not about defeatism. If this is the reaction to the work from my peers, then I have failed. It doesn't matter if BK's market share has gone up, or if consumers and BK's brand managers liked the work, because I think in order to be successful, truly successful in the grand scheme of things, you need to score on all three levels. We only scored on two, as did Landor with the Wrigley work. Very sad. What missed opportunities.

I think that this is from Mau's Performativity, and I love it: "The power of truly great designers, the work of Tibor Kalman, Nevil Brody, David Carson, Ed Fella...I for one will go out on a limb to suggest that their work is not at all a function of being "critical" in the banal sense in which the word is now used but rather of being deliberately out of step with contemporary current, and even dismissive of collective expectation. There is something in their work that is a pure dismantler of design. It establishes a demilitarized zone of sorts, a place whose atmosphere places all bets on hold yet at the same time raises the stakes beyond the reach of any player. You will recognize it in those quirky silent moments in the work that truly provokes thought to begin. So I don't believe it is as much of being critical of this, as much as it is about reflecting back to society so we see ourselves for what we really truly are."

So we can talk about making a difference, or we can make a difference. We can preach or we can practice. We can blame account managers, the client, the culture, society, our parents, our spouses, our dogs, whatever. If we do that, we are just avoiding the truth and appointing blame. We only need to look at ourselves and stop babbling. If we are not doing good, meaningful work then maybe we don't have the talent, or the balls or the desire. If we want to make a difference, we just need to do reach within ourselves and try, if we can, (if we have the talent and courage) to make a difference and actually do some good work.

On Aug.30.2003 at 11:22 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Oh boy. I have thinking a lot about this too. Specially since Graham's response, which as much as I respect it, it sounds just a tad naive. Too simple and too good to be true in these days.

>they will not have gone through the drab machine that is current design education, they will not expect or demand a career from it

This I just don't see happen, it makes the effort of being a graphic designer even more diluted. Is it implied that design education is not a necessity? Unless you have talent like Carson or Segura you better get your ass through school and learn the principles of design. Because graphic design is very much a profession, we are making visual work for a client, right? So how can design not be a profession?

Like I've said, I think you make some excellent points Graham, and your vision of what graphic design is is very cool, but I truly believe there is more to it, there is a bigger responsibilty.

> I think we are talking to ourselves

And that is simply because we encourage it amongst ourselves. Put together two designers and they will bitch about their clients, how they don't get respect, how all is so fucked up. Put any of those two people in front of a client and none will say a thing. Why? I think because most designers don't have the confidence to stand for the profession and like Mok said, being constantly insecure and apologizing for our inability to be making a difference. And that pretty much sucks.

> Everything we do, everyday, has the impact to change.

But this is just true among us. Cheque writers are still not sure that when they sign that check we are impacting change. That's what's so frustrating! We are still just talking to ourselves.

Now, I'm getting all caught up in this "Power of Design" theme the AIGA has going on and even though I don't consider myself an "agent of change" like they are proclaiming we are, for the first time I'm thinking that yeah, this shit might just work out fine. (More on this next week, I have a little something more elaborate). But I also think there is still some more room for babbling amongst ourselves, figuring out what we are doing wrong and learning from our insecurities can only fortify the effort in the bigger picture.

I think we are on the right track... yet there is still a shitload of work to do inside the profession.

On Aug.30.2003 at 04:05 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Hey all,

I just got back from the toilet after puking my guts out from swallowing the shit on www.a-g-i.com. Woo whee! What crap.

One mantra I've been repeating over and over in my head over the past few days is that you--designer or not--create your own reality. And you have a much better chance of success if and only if you acknowledge the existing reality. Otherwise...build a straw man.

I'm all for ego--that is, the faith and pride in one's self and what one can accomplish; not so keen on the organizations that engage in adolescent hero worship. I like David Carson a lot, but I find little to say of his work...and generally speaking, sometimes those who speak the least make the greatest contributions.

Meaning that I seriously doubt that Mau does anything but enhance his studio's business (A GOOD THING, by the way, I ain't knockin' it) through his yammering.

And, meaning that I should shut up and get shit done. I oughta figure out what I want...and make it.

For once I think I might actually be ON that track. 'bout time.

On Aug.30.2003 at 04:49 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Thanks for the welcome, Debbie!

On Aug.30.2003 at 04:49 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

>I'm all for ego--that is, the faith and pride in one's self and what one can accomplish

Graffitti seen today in Union Square: Pride ruins all relationships.

Scared the shit out of me when I saw it. A sign? Random graffitti to ignore? Perhaps. (It was pretty, though--big uppercase white letters on a sky blue background) In thinking about graphic design, how much pride and ego is in our work? Are we truly being altruistic about providing an authentic service to our clients, or is there/should there be ego in it? How much ego or pride is there in insisting on doing good work?

On Aug.30.2003 at 05:40 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

...and you're most welcome, Bradley : )

On Aug.30.2003 at 05:41 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>How much ego or pride is there in insisting on doing good work?

Too much and it's getting in the way. Hard to change years and years of operating under that way of thinking though.

You know what would be cool? Two years without awards shows for designers, no AIGA, no HOW, no Graphis annuals, forget about STEP's 100. Imagine: no Best of Shows, no Annual Report of th year, not even a prize for the packaging with the best use of recyclable materials. Then we would most likely see who is in this profession for the ego trip or for the chance to affect change.

On Aug.30.2003 at 05:54 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Armin--such an interesting idea. And sad that something like that would likely not happen. You know why? Those awards shows, competitions and annuals are big revenue generators for said organizations. It is all one big cyclical capitalist/commercial endeavor. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing...

On Aug.30.2003 at 06:00 PM
Armin’s comment is:

The great thing about that is that it would force us to find other ways to value our results. Better yet, to value the process of design. A lot of design firms send out "newsletters" or press releases to their clients when they get an award, what would happen if in two years they didn't have a single excuse to stay in touch with their clients? They would have to find something more valuable, more meaningful with which to keep their clients informed of the great things they are doing.

Two years later, bring back the awards, all of them! And raise the entry fees, see who enters them...

>It is all one big cyclical capitalist/commercial endeavor. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing...

You are right, as far as the revenue that they get, I don't see it as that bad a thing. Money makes the world work and they just want a piece of it. Everybody wins.

On Aug.30.2003 at 06:14 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

I had the same thought about awards, but, ultimately opted to leave the shows in the mix. Just because its like a test of resistence...I think it'd be interesting, and I think its totally possible and should be proposed. I get mighty damn sick of people saying that those who don't care about awards are sore losers who are insecure and blah blah blah.

Quick word to anyone who's said that: Fuck you. You want to enter awards shows? Fine. But me, personally, I don't need the approval of others to see that I'm a capable designer. That's my call--not a group of judges.

And its awards that make egos a bad thing. There are numerous sides to ego--the side that's built from integrity and unshakable security, and the side that just wants more attention and recognition, and creates it independently when others don't pile it on first.

Thing is though, every creative field has awards of some sort...its just a matter of how relevant you believe them to be. I think the Oscars are a joke, but I'm always interested in the Pritzker Prize.

On Aug.30.2003 at 09:45 PM
graham’s comment is:

armin-the responsibility implicit in some of the things i say is the responsibility to everything everywhere all the time-or at least the effort to achieve this.

the thing about not demanding a career/not having been processed through modules and requirements is about those who make design because it is all they can do. they have no choice. it is not 9 to 5. it is life. this is the only qualification/accreditation necessary. far from being a dilution, it is a weeding out of the careerists, the players and dabblers. there is no safety net, nothing to fall back on. i didn't say that i thought design is not a profession, but i didn't say that i did. i probably don't care either way. it's just not that important a point to me in the wider scheme of things-and i've seen design approached in what i think you mean as a 'professional' way that is utter tat, and design done in other ways that is complete, detailed and alive.

perhaps-and i come to realise this more every time i read on here-it's just very different in the u.s., and without wanting to dive into that theme here i'll just say that maybe we're talking at cross purposes and fundamentally agreeing.

there is greater tendency in europe to approach the college route as if one will come out and immediately set up either alone or in a little group. which means you are dealing directly with the client all the time. the question of what to wear or what the right way to hold meetings may be rarely comes up because you do what you do. hopefully that is naive, and remains so for the extent of one's working life. there just isn't enough time to worry about those things when there's work to do, whether a cd cover for someone you met drunkenly in a bar one one and made a promise to (for free) or whether it's the rebranding of an international corporation or whether it's a piece of film work for fund raising.

armin-your paragraph about two designers bitching (and this is just an illustration) is the thing that i just don't experience, not in the way you describe. absolutely, it's shitty when good ideas don't see the light of day, but i can't remember having a conversation about lack of respect from a client. it's usually more to do with the fact that it's their loss, how they don't respect themselves or their own endeavours, what could be done next time and the next to find ways around or through this. now i'm babbling, and i like babbling because there might be one moment of sense in it. a lot of the people i know think they're making a difference in a pompous noble overblown exuberance of confidence whilst at the same time they're treading streets covered in dog shit. that's what i love.

especially over the past three or four years i've seen (now it's like roy batty at the end of blade runner) hundreds of people from very different places and lives have their heads turned in a situation where no demands are made except to demand of oneself, and this in a small, thoughtful, momentary way. i know that this kind of naivety works. when someone says that this (whatever this is) can't be done because they've been told (in school, in a workplace, at a conference), just ask why and see what happens.

i'll always be babbling, always asking why, why, why.

On Aug.31.2003 at 11:20 AM
LOKi’s comment is:

For our sake, Graham, I hope you keep babbling.

I've just moved from Canada to Europe and am hoping the differences you mention are true, because that's half the reason I'm here.

I'm really not sure how awards and such got into this conversation, I thought it was about design making life better. When we're talking about that, awards seem pretty damn trivial. I've had the good fortune to go through a programme where design was not taught as a profession. Granted, I'm lacking some skills because of it, but it has shown me that design can be used to address greater ideas than a client's needs. But in many ways I think this might be the brilliant naivety/lucidity that Graham is addressing.

How long will I remain naive?

On Aug.31.2003 at 11:38 AM
Bradley’s comment is:


Maybe if design education focused on prodding students to do the best work all the time, and to learn how to accomplish that goal in all sorts of situations, things might be better. The promise might look better perhaps, I don't know.

I know that when I was in school, the emphasis was more on doing work that was going to resonate well with employers. It was about real-world solutions. It was about what was known. And much of this was denied by the enforcers through and throughout.

Well, fine. Okay, that's going to get people jobs and if getting a job is the important thing and all that matters...fine. But good lord, fuck that. Given a choice between the wildly idealistic hothead who lives and breathes what s/he does, or the clinically effective individual who can follow the rules, bang shit out quickly and predictably...I'm going to lean towards the hothead.

The reason is, if design is all about creating things and making things (I choose to glorify the artifact and not just the process, which I guess varies with the AIGA stance which I read in Step Magazine tonight is more about the "process"), then I'd rather work with or work for someone who intends to construct a reality in doing that--creating and making things.

I wish there was more emphasis on enjoying what you do, not enough people enjoy whatever it is they do period. I wish there was more emphasis on doing what you enjoy too; I wish there was less emphasis on following the established rules. I wish designers and advertisers treated people with more respect and assumed higher intelligence in their audiences. I think if people were happier--wait, found a way to make themselves not just happy but fucking thrilled to do what they do, "things would get better." Because then we'd all be doing. And not just talking.

You know, a few days ago I walked away from a job I didn't like, a job that didn't fit me, because I knew that by staying there I'd never come close to accomplishing the things I wanted to. Hell, I wouldn't even be able to try.

I know what you mean, Graham, by talking about not necessarily treating design as a "profession," because if I'm reading you right, that's all about "being in business to make money." Well, money is necessary. And people can't just ignore that and hope things'll be fine. But somebody, please, shoot and kill me if I ever work for any place that puts more emphasis on profits and attention than just doing truly astounding work.

On Sep.01.2003 at 03:11 AM
Bradley’s comment is:


Yeah I don't know why awards ended up in this conversation either, but what the hell. Let's talk about 'em anyway.

No, seriously--they do play a role. I firmly believe that. Because designers are obsessed with them. Awards are the currency of this profession, they are used to determine value and ability and relevance and whatever else. Nevermind that most awards and attention is given to self-promo pieces, posters for AIGA events, and lecture posters or cute little birthday and wedding invitations. Or stupid PSA type announcements where we more often than not see completely and utterly over-simplified approaches to complex social problems. I won't mention any names, you can buy books and posters from his web site, but he'll charge more (sometimes as much as 50 bucks--because sharpie ink is expensive) if you want them signed.

What you said is so dead-on. "Seems rather trivial to me." Well, yeah! That's why this jibber-jabber about making things better won't add up to anything as long as there's any emphasis on winning awards.

This is often a self-satisfied, self-absorbed, self-referential profession. And that's a shame. Do good work, strive to do good work, dream about doing good work just for the sake of it...not because some "design groupie" will go back to your hotel room with you after a ceremony or something.

On Sep.01.2003 at 03:28 AM
Michael B.’s comment is:

I hate to recycle a quote, but I can't help myself. From William Golden (designer of the CBS eye, kids), Address to Ninth International Design Conference, Aspen, 1959: "I happen to believe that the visual environment...improves each time a designer produces a good design—and in no other way." (Emphasis his.)

I've thought a lot about this over the years, and in the end I can't say it any more simply. That doesn't seem to make it any easier, though.

On Sep.01.2003 at 07:43 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

To Michael B.

On quoting Bill Golden.


You're Preaching to the Choir!!!!!

At least mine, anyway!!!!!!

On Apr.26.2004 at 06:59 PM