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Nothing New Under the Sun

Sorry for two back-to-back posts. But, my post yesterday drew the response, > Why do I feel like we’ve had this conversation already? and my response to that question got me thinking about another 15 year-old School of Design discussion we had. Therefore I wanted to address it now instead of sitting on it.

Have we had this conversation before?

Have I seen that logo somewhere else?

That was done about 30 years ago.

That was done about 10 minutes ago.

The list of responses seems to grow the more we look/listen to some (most) things we see in design, film, books, TV, editorial journalism. Hell, the whole creative community - seems to not only be giving up on “discovering the new”(imagine that), but giving up on regurgitating anything of value as well.

Technology seems to be continually advancing but what about creativity? Are we out of ideas? Can we genuinely say that there is anything new under the sun?

We don’t read enough so when we see a drama on TV loosely based on the writings of Nabokov we think how original simply because nothing on TV has ever approached that type of human desire and pain. Actually that might be a welcome scenario, due to the lineup of primetime offerings the networks are throwing out there as quality product.

Let’s see, 2 dramas centered on the location of Hawaii - albeit one is a crime drama (another one?) and the other is a prime time soap (hmmm.. Oahu 96796, anyone? Even Shannon Daugherty is going to be on it!)

The music industry used to own the crown of the infinite loop. But they are constantly trying to get it back.

Ok, I digress.

The point is our creative world seems to be full of garbage. I admit that if we did not have garbage the cream would not rise to the top. But, there’s more than a fair share of garbage out there.

I’m not saying there aren’t people out there trying to be original. I can honestly admit that in my attempts to be original I later found I was not. But, the majority out there seems to be churning out whatever is working, or worked, for the other guy - not even trying to create.

Now, I’m going to try something different here.

Instead of continuing the negative rant I just laid out by asking for supportive comments that there is nothing but garbage out there. I want every one to focus and find something they believe to be “new”. I put new in quotes because I am more interested in the “discovery of the new”. If it’s new to you, if it makes you think, “wow, I’ve never seen that!” If it has value, talk about it.

If it’s not new to others take the time to EDUCATE us and show us the influence or the original. Then maybe go further by trying to find validity in the appropriation.

I’ll begin.

While not new as a whole, I am constantly intrigued by House Industries and how their appropriation of the past is driven by their overwhelming appreciation of not only the product, but also the people and culture behind the products. I applaud them because the wear it on their sleeve and don’t try to pass it off as original. Plus, I somehow never get tired of their “completely overdesigned” (their term) work.

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PUBLISHED ON Aug.31.2004 BY Brady Bone
Michael H.’s comment is:

This is another great post Brady, not sure why no one's really in on this one.

However, I do have something to interject. Back in school, I had an instructor (Gene Slaughter) who said something to us, to the effect of:

"I know all of you are trying to create something new, something original. But what is truly original? Something that's never been seen before, right? So if it's never been seen before, how will it be recognized?"

He was trying to get us to realize that you can never really do anything that hasn't already been done before. Not completey anyway. He did urge us to build on what influenced us though, because every idea we have comes from something we have already seen or heard in our environment.

On Aug.31.2004 at 03:02 PM
Steven’s comment is:

Michael, to carry your point further, even though "you can never really do anything that hasn't already been done before," the important thing to consider is that you are giving your interpretation or insight to the task at hand. What is "new" is your take on the situation.

We are all different people with different perspectives and experiences. "Novelty" is implicit within each of us. Even when we copy something, we are still creating a "newer" or "different" interpretation of an idea.

The whole history of the human race is a series of technical or social advances which are built upon previous knowledge and activity. But while I think that it's futile to remove ourselves from the fabric of history, it's important to also acknowledge that this "fabric" is made of individual strands, whose individual characteristics make up the gestalt value of the whole.

On Aug.31.2004 at 04:24 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

We shouldn't look around ourselves and say that there are no new ideas.

There are always new ideas. But we shouldn't expect them to spring at us from every corner. New ideas are rare and delicate things. They don't come fully formed. They need the space and time to grow and develop.

Michael/Steven - the flipside of the statement 'you can never really do anything that hasn't already been done before' is that 'you can never do anything that has ever been done before'. Everything anyone does is a completely new occurence that the universe has never seen before.

The only difference between these positions is what we choose to see as similarity, and what we choose to see as difference.

Now, I don't mean to get all postmodern on your ass. I'm just trying to show that novelty is subjective.

All of the truly great acheivements throughout history have been the culmination of a particular set of circumstances - the next tiny step in a chain of many tiny steps.

Even major paradigm shifts occur as the culmination of a series of tiny steps.

New things don't just spring from nowhere. This would be magic, and despite all our longings, magic doesn't exist.

But this doesn't mean that new things don't exist. It's just difficult to discover/create them, that's all.

As Shakespeare's Hamlet so eloquently put it:

'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'

On Aug.31.2004 at 05:20 PM
daniel b’s comment is:

“The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree…The green and the budding twigs may represent exsisting spieces; and those produced during the former year may represent the long succession of extinct spieces.”

”if we choose to let conjecture run wild, then animals, our fellow bretherren in pain , disease, suffuring and famine—our slaves in he most labourious works, our companions in our amusements—they may partake of our origin in common ancestor—we may all be melted together”

…Charles Darwin’s metaphor for The Great Tree of Life - Origin of Species

If all things, humans, animals, plants, business and in this case creativity, are subjected to the natural forces of nature. Then creativity would take the same path as everything else, one thing always comes from something else.

In the quest for finding the true definition of Design or Graphic Design, there were rants and ravings over ”process”. So why wouldn’t creativity or originallity follow the same path. One thing leads to another, which leads to another.

Where would the idea of the wireless internet come from without speach, writing, documents, electricity, letterpress, typewriter, computers, desktop computers, the internet and the labtop computer. Without all of those ideas implace the the original idea for the wireless internet would never have occured.

===This rant was influenced by “The Origin of Brands” by Al and Laura Ries===

On Sep.01.2004 at 08:59 AM
kev’s comment is:

I think Sam Brown is doing something original. I like that he takes titles from the public and makes them into drawings.

Takashi Miike makes some interesting movies. I thought Audition in particular was amazing, although I've not seen Ichi the Killer yet.

On Sep.01.2004 at 11:09 AM
Steven’s comment is:

Hey Tom and Daniel, I think that we're inagreement--or at least saying similar things in "new" ways. ;-)

Daniel, in relation to your Darwin quote, most scientists now believe that all living creatures on this earth have manifested from a single bacteria species that adapted and spread across the entire planet, evolving over millennia of climate and landscape changes to form all earthly life. So indeed, we are all one connected tree of life. What's also interesting is that the advancement of human cognition, in other words intellectual ability, is directly connected to technology advancement. This being said, all of us are a part of the dynamic continuum of what we have been and what we will become. And while we "stand on the shoulders of giants," some of us in turn will be the giants upon which future generations shall stand.

(Recommended reading: "The Hidden Connections" by Fritjof Capra. Shoulders of giants quote loosely taken from the title of Emigre 66.)

On Sep.01.2004 at 02:33 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

It's interesting that biological evolution has been raised here. The important thing to note is that although the evolutionary process continues to run its course, we cannot observe is 'from outside'. We cannot jump out of the universe and look down on all things. So although newness is being constantly generated, we are blind to it as we are swept along with it.

We can look back at the past and point to seminal moments, artificially saying 'here was a new creature'. But we can never look at the present and say 'here is a new creature'.

Of course, evolutionary thinking can be applied to ideas. RIchard Dawkins' theory of 'memetics' treats ideas as if they were replicating things, analogous to genes, that multiply themselves through the environment of our culture and our brains.

However, this theory has caused much controvosy - and really, I think it's misleading. If we take conscious agents (the people having the ideas) out of the picture, were left with little more than a play of uninteresting physical forces interacting in a way that is of no value to us. A theory that can't inform our future choices isn't much of a theory.

Nevertheless, understanding complex phenomena like biological evolution can help us to understand the complex phenomenon that is culture - and can only make us better at being genuinely creative.

For some interesting books try the following:

The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins

The Blank Slate - Steven Pinker

Freedom Evolves - Daniel C. Dennett

The Rise And Fall of the Third Chimpanzee - Jared Diamond

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - Douglas Hofstadter (this one's a bit weird, but it's fantastic)

On Sep.01.2004 at 04:52 PM
daniel b’s comment is:

Tom the point wasn't to directly look at biological evolution, but rather to acknowledge the background and process in which things occur in nature.

I don't care if we are talking about a humans biological make up, big business, our govermental institutions or the thought process, they all follow the same rules.

In the thought process (being original), ones conclusions are brought on by the events of ones past. Thoughts billed on current knowledge and like in nature there are many failures before a success. In the end there might a creation of a new idea but in actuallity it is an alteration of ideas and influences that have already existed.

EX :: the invention of the automobile - the automoblie is a carriage that is driven by an engine rather than pulled by horses

The important thing note is that we should realize that we as designers are not the all knowing wonderous intellectual beings that some in our profession claim to be. We need to make sure that give credit to the people who have guided, inspired, taught, and influenced in a good or bad way, so that we might create something that is original to its subject while having the background of ideas that already exist.

On Sep.01.2004 at 11:04 PM
ian’s comment is:

i had an industrial design instructor tell me, “you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you design something. you simply have to make it better every time.” this is what drives good product design. looking at an object and asking, “can this be better?” if you are not doing it better, don’t bother doing it. it is this attitude which has brought us damn-near every innovation out there. this is relevant to graphic design as well. when designing a new identity system, it doesn’t have to be better than every other system out there (although having aspirations is good), it does have to be better than all your previous work. how can you innovate each and every project? can you even do that or is it just too exhausting? can you use print in a new way? use materials not directly associated (like a chicken feeder as a light fixture or cloth for the pages of a brochure)? that is where innovation is. can you present your message on the internet in a new way? integrate sound or video or simply tell your message in only photos? cheng didn’t reinvent the counter top, he used concrete and redefined the materials a counter top can be made of, which opened up the aesthetic of what a counter top can be. the end results of his thinking are both functional and beautiful. not to mention he has sparked many other individuals to rethink what a counter top can be (sandstone?) look at the ipod, by no means did they invent music at apple, nor did they invent digital music. they did understand how great digital music is and focused on how to make it easily accessible for the right price. look at what this thinking has spawned, and all the products around the ipod. from speaker docks, to itunes and the music store, to the airport express station to play digital music through your home stereo. they didn’t invent the digital music player, they just made it better.

you can’t have an original thought without the influence of the past. what’s great is the influence of a logo doesn’t have to be from a previous logo, it could be from the impression the sheets left on your forehead which gave you an idea of how to render a letterform...or it could come from the simple statement, “i could do a logo for an acupuncturist better than that.”

who is doing something new and original? wired magazine. i am always fascinated by this magazine...both the subjects and people covered in its articles. is the magazine a new idea, or is wired being a magazine in a new way? no, not really. but the articles are always covering what is new and evolving in science, technology, robotics, diamond manufacturing...you name it. they are constantly seeking out the bleeding edge.

On Sep.03.2004 at 02:55 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Encore Magazine

New to me. I love to read & look at real books & magazines. This is the only online magazine that has ever held my attention all the way through. The subtle movement on some pages was more captivating than any of the rich content PDF magazines that I have seen. It made me think of "The Daily Prophet" from Harry Potter or "USA Today" from Minority Report.

Found through my favourite source for newness on the web, Todd Dominey's sideblog.

On Sep.03.2004 at 06:10 AM