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Rick Poynor: Ipse Dixit

A lovely quality about weblogs is their immediacy. At times, a fever-pitched volley of instant self-expression and feedback manifests a unique aesthetic — not quite conversation, not quite a measured exchange of belles lettres. And much like Massimo Vignelli gazing upon an Emigre typeface, some of our colleagues have yet to develop an appreciation for the very things that seem so wrong about blogs.

Like our friend and colleague Rick Poynor.

In the May/June issue of Print, Rick opines upon the shortcomings of Speak Up; using certain comments by Armin Vit as his punctum. And while I agree with several of his conclusions and axioms, something about the general tone and structure of the piece left me bothered.

He starts by quoting Armin. “In the past twelve to sixteen months, however, we’ve run out of questions and even perhaps out of steam. Some of us (authors) have gone from outsiders to insiders. … We have done it all. We started to get repetitive and, well, sometimes even boring.” (For the sake of clarity, the ellipsis before the phrase “we have done it all” refers to the wide range of posted subjects.)

Rick then pauses to present Looking Closer 5 — the latest in a series which debuted in 1994 — as a paragon of good critical writing, argumentum ad verecundiam.

Lo, not a single Speak Up post was deemed worthy of inclusion in Looking Closer 5. Rick points out that even though two of the editors are Michael Bierut and William Drenttel — both Design Observer founders along with Rick — they are absolved of bias because Armin works for Michael at Pentagram and Michael often comments on Speak Up. Another editor, Steve Heller, is extolled as having a track record of “encouraging new design writing from every direction,” yet finds blogs too unsophisticated “to be taken seriously.”

The fundamental problem of causal inference is that we can only be positive about things which are observable. In this case, we can only prove the following:
1. Speak up debuted in 2002.
2. The Looking Closer series debuted in 1994.
3. Armin Vit is a founder of Speak Up.
4. Michael Bierut, William Drenttel and Rick Poynor are founders of Design Observer.
5. Michael comments on Speak Up.
6. Armin and I both comment on Design Observer.
7. Armin works for Michael at Pentagram.
8. There are posts from Design Observer in Looking Closer 5.
9. Nothing from Speak Up appears in Looking Closer 5.
10. Steve Heller thinks blogs are unsophisticated.
11. Steve Heller encourages many people to write for his many collections of essays.
12. Both Armin and I have written pieces for Steve Heller.
13. Steve Heller paid me $75 to do so.
14. It took me a couple weeks to write the piece.
15. That’s a shitty hourly wage.

Correlation does not imply causation. The absence of Speak Up posts from Looking Closer 5 indicates only that there are no Speak Up posts in Looking Closer 5. Any inference otherwise is fallacious.

And if Steve Heller has a problem with blogs, it doesn’t seem like he has problems with bloggers writing essays for him. But I don’t know for sure; ask him.

Anyhoo… after Rick establishes the missing Speak Up posts as a straw man, he investigates what the problem could be, and comes to the conclusion that it’s a lack of editors.

He writes: “It seems obvious that when an untrained intermediary is handling copy by an amateur writer, the results are unlikely to be sparkling. Designers are quick to reject amateurishness within design; exactly the same considerations should apply to editing and writing. These are crafts that need to be learned, ideally from working with professionals. Output that falls short of basic standards is no more satisfactory or persuasive than clumsily matched typefaces, botched kerning, or trite design formulas used as though they had just been invented.”

Yes. I agree that it is better to learn one’s selected craft. I agree that untrained people generally don’t produce fabulous work. But the same could be said for the host of future professionals churned out yearly by design schools and English departments across the country.

And the dogmatic insistence on one’s standards makes for a dull life. I love a clean, crisply set block of type as much as the next guy; but there’s room in my heart for Corky McCoy’s work for Miles Davis or Sun Ra’s home-made graphics. I love their work because it’s passionate, and not perfect.

If there’s one single thing I learned from my time with Brian Collins at BIG, it’s the preëminence of the personal connection. Graphic designers are often caught up in the minutiae of spacing, materials and proportion to the detriment of making that connection. And if you can connect emotionally, you can influence.

This is what Speak Up did.

It’s a mess, there’s a lot of shitty prose to wade through, and many of the ideas are half-baked. But at its best, Speak Up makes that emotional connection.

After four years of design school and several years of diligent attendance to AIGA events in New York, I realized that the best design lessons often came in very relaxed settings. The off-handed comment from a working professional offered in an informal manner is a gift shared, while the same information in a classroom is a rule espoused. Which has a better chance of being remembered?

Rick claims that Speak Up and Design Observer are “really magazines by another name.” No. They are blogs: a different kind of animal with magazine-ish elements, a more immediate sense of community, unbridled passions, a water-cooler informality, and one that judges people by the merits of their contribution — even if it is as strangely written as Design Maven’s comments. And with this new form, comes different aesthetic criteria.

Perhaps now is a good time to draw attention to one of the more interesting posts to appear on Design Observer: Rick’s post Critics and Their Purpose, a 62-point list from 1966 which describes “Critical Method.” The following selections have significance in response to his Print essay. My comments are in italics.

8. The content and level of criticism is determined by the audience addressed. Blog and print audiences are different

12. Criticism should be persuasive, not dogmatic. I’ve addressed this above.

13. The critic should discipline his prejudices and remember that he is subject to error. Hmm… Editors calling for more editing?

14. The critic should remember that all art is based on experience, however remotely. The blog experience is different than the print experience.

16. Criticism must see beyond superficial décor to spiritual purpose and order. Speak Up participants are expressing thought. Why is this a bad thing?

17. The critic should understand the limitations of the medium and have a sense of the interplay of the medium with the subject, but he should not get lost in the discussion of techniques. Technical criticism “murders to dissect”.

20. The critic must allow for the fact that his reaction will be biased by the context in which he experiences the work.

22. The critic must get outside himself to criticise fully. He must abandon built-in expectations and have a sense of possibilities.

25. Criticism begins with a description of the impact of a work of art and proceeds to consider its intentions and whether they have been realized.

26. The act of describing will reveal the critic’s own biases. The description of phenomena plus the description of feelings equals the definition of values.

29. An interpretation of a work can still be valid even if it does not correspond with the artist’s intentions. Agreed: we all could write better.

31. Of two carefully considered but contrary opinions both may be right. Hopefully avoiding logical fallacies and ad hominem attacks. Rick’s second-to-last paragraph was beneath his abilities and unworthy of a point-by-point response. As someone who has spewed ad hominem myself, I’m a bit sensitive to this.

While I take issue with the “woolly thinking” behind his essay — just the kind that, ironically, an editor should have questioned (sorry Joyce) — I do agree with the general sentiment of Rick’s essay.

Yes, I often find my eyes rolling back when reading Speak Up — posts and comments included — but it’s only because I care. Who wouldn’t want their colleagues to be better? It makes you look good by association. But you know what? There are a lot of half-assed comments dressed in intellectual drag over at Design Observer; and not every post is golden either. Call it Sturgeon’s Law (90 percent of everything is crud) or call it natural ebb and flow, this is the way of the world.

The word “essay” comes from the French verb “essayer” — to try. The first practitioner of the essay was Michel de Montaigne, who, in his Essais of 1580, asked the ultimate question to begin all inquiry: “Que sais-je?” or “What do I know?”

That’s all we’re doing here — just trying to find out what we know. Thanks for the moral support.

[Ed.: Link to Poynor’s article added — 05.09.2007]

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PUBLISHED ON May.04.2007 BY m. kingsley
ben...’s comment is:

is rick saying design observer is better than speak up?

On May.04.2007 at 12:35 PM
m.kingsley’s comment is:

Ben, it's inferred, but the main point is he has found what we do here to be unworthy. Readers' comments are described as having to "wade through a lot of bilge to fish out" sharp and revealing exchanges.

On May.04.2007 at 12:44 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

kingsley, what prompted you to write this and why do it now?

On May.04.2007 at 01:09 PM
mandy’s comment is:

Readers' comments are described as having to "wade through a lot of bilge to fish out" sharp and revealing exchanges.

Funny, that about sums up my feelings about Print.

On May.04.2007 at 01:11 PM
Christina W’s comment is:

... the dogmatic insistence on one's standards makes for a dull life.
... if you can connect emotionally, you can influence.

I can only tell you what I know - one, Speak Up is the only website I have ever come back to read regularly, going on two years now. And two, (can I blaspheme? apologies beforehand to people who deserve all due respect), I just posted on being an obsessive reader and often enjoy tackling abstract and theoretical essays... but try as I might, I find it hard to plow through much of Mr. Poynter and Mr. Heller's wrtiting. The subjects sound so interesting, but the emotional connection I get is so cardboard, I can't even say I dislike it. I guess that's often the point, to critique without emotion, but if you're not passionate about the subject, why bother even having a debate? Provided, of course, you are willing to throw out dogma and be equally as passionate about the other person's point of view... you get two people like that in an arguement where both start playing devil's advocate and that's a debate worth having. That's Speak Up.

On May.04.2007 at 02:10 PM
tonepoems’s comment is:

Why does everyone take themselves so seriously all the time? The outside world already thinks all designers are pretentious - this isn't helping.

On May.04.2007 at 02:24 PM
Joyce’s comment is:


Please reread the column and you'll see that Rick was citing Looking Closer 4, which indeed was published in 2002. Thanks!

On May.04.2007 at 03:18 PM
m.kingsley’s comment is:

Thanks Joyce. Duly noted.

On May.04.2007 at 04:02 PM
pesky’s comment is:

Somehow I always feel personally guilty when someone says SpeakUp is lightweight compared to Design hit-the-snore-button Observer. But I don't give a flying f#ck. I've lead so many down the path of anti-intellectual design I will probably be burned at the stake someday anyway. I don't remember the last time I said anything weighty on design. (That I hated Helvetica and Modernism was as far as I got.)

I don't get this rivalry. It's pompous ego wars by insecure designers as far as I'm concerned.

On May.04.2007 at 07:09 PM
Derrick Schultz ’s comment is:

Yes. I agree that it is better to learn one's selected craft. I agree that untrained people generally don't produce fabulous work. But the same could be said for the host of future professionals churned out yearly by design schools and English departments across the country.

This to me is part of the difference (and appeal) between SpeakUp and DO. While I've been critical of SpeakUp on occasions, Armin and every writer here has established an environment where you can speak your piece without the risk of feeling stupid or ignorant. It is a learning environment. It is a school. Its what makes a blog or whatever you call this much more engaging than a magazine. Learning comes form interaction in my opinion, and SpeakUp encourages interaction. I assume that the decision to make it a blog with comments grew out of this ideal.

Armin gave me my first chance to publish a writing. I know the same article would have been rejected by almost any other design blog. I recognize the quality of writing was pretty low, but as yet the content, the meat of that article, has not shown up anywhere else on the internet. I think that speaks a lot to this site's beliefs. Where else is a young designer who finds spare moments to write on topics he finds important going to be published? As Rick has constantly sad, there's a real lack of good design writing. But theres an even less places to learn how to write good design writing.

We all need to start somewhere. My first article here has led to me writing, and most importantly thinking, a lot more about design and the world around me. I don't think anyone should underestimate that importance. Sometimes the articles on here are eye-rolling from an audience standpoint, but they are eye-opening for the writer.

On May.04.2007 at 10:09 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

I thought we had come a long way since the days that Speak Up and Design Observer (while Rick Poynor was involved) sniped at each other over our respective styles, territories and willingness (or not) to engage with our readers. I've said it before, I'll say it again, Speak Up is *not* an online magazine or a journal, but a place where people gather: much closer in analogy to a bar than a publication. The purpose of Speak Up was never to create the perfect article, but to engage commentary, and at that it did very, very well, and did so before anyone else at that level. I would not expect to see a Speak Up post in a journal of concise, edited material—it wouldn't belong (and such decision-making, while an exercise of bias, is part of the editorial process). The best Speak Up posts are dependent on the ensuing discussion, and the character that that entire discussion brings to the thread. For some it may invoke a desire to get out the hip-waders, but you sometimes do have to take the bad with the good to appreciate the whole.

A blog is an open forum, with an overt invitation to participate regardless of writing skill. Either you're willing to engage with the hoi polloi, or you're not. Speak Up always has, which is exactly what gives its best threads their vitality, for better or worse. We have had a lot of fun and expressed a lot of passion and enthusiasm for design, and it shows in a way that simply can't be imparted through edited, journalistic writing. I believe that that is valuable, relevant, and worth preserving.

I do find it a bit strange that Rick considers Looking Closer 5 a benchmark for the be-all and end-all of design writing. I don't know who's in and who's out, but I find it difficult to believe that of all the design writing from the past 5 years, only the worthy are represented. I do hope there are not a lot of heads in ovens over this.

On May.05.2007 at 01:13 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I haven't received this month's Print, so I'll have to wait before I comment any further, even if I'm dying to.

On May.05.2007 at 09:43 AM
ben...’s comment is:

i'm better than you... that's just great, man if we all work together we might actually change this world...

On May.05.2007 at 11:56 AM
m.kingsley’s comment is:

From the Truth be Told Department.

Several people -- Marian Bantjes, Steve Heller, Joyce Rutter Kaye and Debbie Millman -- all either privately or publicly sent me editing notes: one misspelling, one error in chronology, and one distracting non sequitur removed.

These were received with gratitude and applied to the post.

N.B. there were no suggestions about structure, general argument, nor logic.

For printed media, this is an essential process which protects the reputation (legal, financial, credibility, etc.) of the publication, its staff and the writer. Once something is printed, it's hard to redact.

Not so in the online world. Posts are easily altered and/or removed. My posts in particular are under constant public flux for the first few days. Punctuation, spelling and individual points in the argument may undergo revision; but so far, I have yet to significantly change or remove a post. This isn't to say that I may not in the future.

The point I want to make is that these little bits of editing didn't change the soul of this post. And if there's any smidgen of creativity, that wasn't changed either.

Editing may sharpen a piece but it's a stretch for me to see how it makes a written work more creative, passionate, or even interesting. That is the job of the writer.

One of my favorite things to read on both Speak Up and Design Observer are the public train wrecks. Remember how Art Chantry hijacked a thread two years ago? Fucking brilliant... and just the sort of thing that you wouldn't find in print.

On May.05.2007 at 12:41 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Editing may sharpen a piece but it's a stretch for me to see how it makes a written work more creative, passionate, or even interesting. That is the job of the writer.

I have to disagree with you on this point, Mark. It depends mostly on the relationship between the editor and writer, but I do think there are times when our creativity and passion get in the way of what it is we're trying to say. Aside from keeping us from looking foolish, I think a good editor/writer relationship can help to find the path through the good stuff and out the other side to The Point in a way that does make it more interesting.

However, with admittedly a limited experience working with editors, I think finding that perfect writer/editor relationship is rare.

On May.05.2007 at 01:05 PM
m.kingsley’s comment is:

Marian, I'll try to make my point in another manner: the difference between David Sedaris and Calvin "Bud" Trillin lies more in their individuality as writers than the contributions of their editors.

On May.05.2007 at 01:23 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:


And now, despite all my comments about our acceptance of all, good and bad ... a kind of bloggism "acceptance of diversity," I really have to say that given that, people really should think before they write.

The worst thing about blogs is the ability to remain anonymous, and therefor post idiotic things without the embarrassment of anyone discovering that you were, in fact, the idiot who posted them.

In the absence of editors, the onus falls upon oneself to edit. Some very, very basics are:

1) Check your spelling: particularly of people's names. Particularly of people whose names are referred to and spelled correctly in the initial post.

2) If you're going to use big words or other languages (Latin, French, etc.), double-check the meaning (and spelling) in a dictionary before committing (I myself have made this grievous mistake in the past).

3) Mind your grammar and sentence structure.

4) Decide whether you're actually saying anything of value and whether it makes sense. (Yes, sometimes I start to comment on a post, maybe even write a few paragraphs, read it over and think "naw, this isn't contributing anything," and either edit it massively or decide not to comment after all.)

5) At least pretend to be a professional communicator behind your anonymous mask.

For instance, I think what "Ben ..." wanted to say was something along the lines of, "Having read Rick Poynor's article, I got the impression he was saying that he, as a paid writer working with paid editors, is better than the unpaid writers of Speak Up. I find this unconstructive, and think it would be a better world if he engaged with us on a more equal level."

But "Ben ..." is not grown up enough yet to articulate his thoughts clearly. And alas, Speak Up is not a bar, and we do not have an age-limit.

On May.05.2007 at 01:26 PM
Su’s comment is:

When Rick left Design Observer, he levelled several criticisms at blogs, on a blog he founded, while writing about Emigre, who were publicly dismissive of blogs.

In the comments, I asked a very simple, direct and to me, obvious question, that given the above context it might have been...informative? to get a response to.

(Disclaimer[weak]: He didn't respond to anything at all in those comments.)

So. Now that he's seen fit to turn the guns on someone else, I think maybe it's time for me to get an answer.

On May.05.2007 at 02:17 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

I'm just really bummed that Armin had to go and belittle Helvetica, the movie.

And now Rick is talking trash about the highly informal SpeakUp.

So I ask you both... are you really commited to creating a say and a name for graphic design as we know it today?

Rick, you should be happy there is pedestrian chat like SpeakUp.

Armin, can't you say anything nice without some kind of disclaimer? My gosh, a MOVIE about a TYPEFACE, and YOU have problems... get real bro. Where's the love, compunero?

And M. Kingsley, why did you have to stoke the fire?

There are so many more issues for us to face.

Don't be a wimpy designer.

On May.05.2007 at 07:49 PM
Black Olive’s comment is:

A lot of designers fall into the vacuum of focusing on technique to the point of almost forgetting the intended communication. Rick (and I can only make this judgment based on this post, as I've yet to actually read the article) seems to be discrediting blogs as a medium because they are not technically perfect as compared to other mediums. I think it's important to remember that the idea –– no matter how imperfectly it may be conveyed –– is what matters most. This is what blogs are the best at –– getting to the soul of the matter.

The rest is mainly refining and it has it's place, but maybe not so much in the blogosphere, where ideas and concepts and connections are key.

On May.05.2007 at 08:22 PM
m.kingsley’s comment is:

Kevin, I would guess there are no more than 5000 people on the planet who would even care about this small matter. In the grand scheme, it's insignificant and the fire you speak about is more like the brief flash of a match strike.

Within that framework consider:
1. I happened to have a bit of piss and vinegar stored up after a long-time absence from Speak Up. Isn't that what you love about me?
2. The lobbing back and forth of missives between public figures follows the tradition of debate.
3. This little dustup may actually drive a few people to buy the current issue of Print just to see what the fuss was about.
4. The name (and charter) of this site is Speak Up.

This too shall pass.

On May.05.2007 at 08:59 PM
Su’s comment is:

There are so many more issues for us to face.

...and won't somebody please think of the children/Ethiopia/global warming? Really, Kevin. Other issues have and will be covered in...other posts. As in: If you have problems with Armin's take on the Helvetica documentary(which in my reading amounts to "maybe it's not as great or important as all the fawning praise" rather than belittling), how about fielding them over there where you have been mysteriously absent all this time?

Also, please refer Marian's point #2 on the (all too often patronizing) use of other languages. I certainly have no idea what a compunero is.

On May.05.2007 at 09:29 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Further to Kevin Hopp, I also think that when one is, essentially, publicly called out, one can hardly just ignore it. Armin and Speak Up were pointedly targeted as the focus of the article. A non-response would have been nothing short of cowardly ... or aquiescence.

As for Armin's opinion on the movie Helvetica, c'mon bro' take your thumb out of your mouth and dry your eyes.

On May.05.2007 at 09:39 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

A man walks into a bar...

He finds an empty seat right in the middle and sits there, on his own, listening to the varied conversations of those around him.

After half an hour, he gets up suddenly and storms out, shouting 'You're all a bunch of idiots! You call that discussion?'.

Puzzled glances are exchanged around the bar. A few people giggle quietly.

Everyone goes back to their interesting conversations.

On May.06.2007 at 10:54 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> Also, please refer Marian's point #2 on the (all too often patronizing) use of other languages. I certainly have no idea what a compunero is.

Su, I think Kevin was trying to say the Spanish word, compañero, which means friend. But no one uses that word, really.

To the real problem at hand, then...

Re: No Speak Up posts included in Looking Closer 5

Poynor proposes that the space between LC4 and LC5 is equal to the amount of time Speak Up has been active and as such the publication of LC5, and the possible inclusion of Speak Up posts in it, is the grand test we have all been waiting for. So... No, it is not. At least not for me. I couldn't care any more about not having anything in LC5 than I do about missing an episode of Dancing with the Stars. Speak Up is a blog, and its place is the internet; not a publication with the weight of four previous volumes that have to maintain a certain level of complexity and intellectual stature. If this is the test, I'm more than happy to stay back one grade.

Poynor also comments that "not a single one of Speak Up's longer texts have been deemed original, relevant or durable enough to join the 44 essays in LC5." First, "durable"; correct, Speak Up posts are about the moment, if they don't last, that's fine, there is another post coming in a few days. Then "original and relevant"; original in respect to what and relevant in context to what? If only to the standards of LC5, then fine, I don't need that approval.

And there may be no bias against excluding Speak Up — I would never claim there is — but the grey area of conflicts of interest of including Design Observer posts when two thirds of the editors are its founding members is, to me, debatable. But, it's not my book, I'm not the publisher or editor, and I sleep like a baby not worrying about it.

Re: Amateurish writing = Bad kerning

Fine. We are not the best writers. Heck, we are not even writers. But so what? We write like human beings, like we would if we concentrated real hard at a bar, we don't want to write like literary laureates because we are not. We are graphic designers writing as best as we can about the things we do. Sometimes that connects with people, sometimes it doesn't. That's fine. Some of the writing in LC5 is as choppy as the acting was in the O.C. so beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Re: No editing = bad

Again, that's fine. I'm the closest thing Speak Up has to an editor and, guess what, I'm not an editor. I'm a designer with my own preconceptions, biases, agendas, interests, inclinations and understandings of what is good and bad and I make decisions based on that alone. I learn from what happens and I move on. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. If everything is sparkingly perfect and edited, then you lose the realness. We all do things off kilter and we should not cover that up by smoothing and making perfect. This is not what Speak Up is about. If you want perfect articles in a perfect setting turn to any of the numerous magazines where editors won't hesitate to change author's words. If this is your cup of tea, drink it until it dries. It ain't mine.

Re: My horn

Poynor says, referring to the post Kingsley linked above, "Vit blows his own trumpet with a gusto few printed publications would stand for, but a lot of it is hot air. His post is full of grandiose claims about how critical Speak Up has been." Alright, let me make one thing perfectly clear so that there is no confusion: I love blowing my own trumpet. I really do, I'm not being sarcastic. I have confidence in what I do and how I do it, sometimes I can back up my claims sometimes I dramatize for effect. It's called self-promotion and we all do it. I have worked my ass off for four years and I'd be damned if I didn't pat myself on the back. I managed to make something out of nothing with the help of our authors and readers. So excuse me if I like to enjoy what I have done and thump my chest and try to make big claims. It helps me create goals and establish expectations. Whether I meet them, for myself and no one else, is a matter of how much harder I am willing to work and figure out what I am striving for.

Poynor's criticism is well taken. I agree with some things and disagree with others. Luckily, I don't live and die by what gets printed.

On May.06.2007 at 11:13 AM
ben...’s comment is:

Honestly, I get tired of people who think they're better than everyone else. I'm not an english major, I didn't take any classes in critical design writing. I'm a graphic designer. I come here to read, participate, and be part of a community. I like speak up.
In addition, Marian, it is safe to assume you don't know me, so for you to say i'm not grown up enough to express myself is a smack in the face and i don't appreciate it. i guess i'm with a bunch of grown folks who don't want to have a little bit of fun... lighten up. life is to short to wear tight, scratchy pants. what is the point of the free-writing of a blog if you're going to bitch about how something is written or the content? if a comment crosses the line, someone finds it offensive, or the owner of the site doesn't want to disrespect the esteemed gentleman we are discussing, i'm fine with that, it's his web site.

all i'm saying is for rick to abase a part of the graphic design community is wack.

Ivy Walker: Oh, berries! What a splendid present!
Lucius Hunt: Be cautious. You are holding the bad color.
Ivy Walker: This color attracts Those We Don't Speak Of.
Ivy Walker: You ought not pick that color berry anymore

On May.06.2007 at 03:57 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Ben ... I didn't have to assume anything. You posted an image (which the Ed. has removed) of asinine childishness, accompanied by a comment which proved everything I needed to know for the time being.

You really must get over the complex of feeling like criticism implies that everyone else is better than you. It won't serve you well. Furthermore, many people are better than you at certain things: get over that, too; it's a truth we all have to live with.

For instance, Rick Poynor is a better writer than I am. He is also a design critic of international repute who has every right to abase any part of the graphic design community he sees fit. While I, an admittedly inferior writer, feel perfectly comfortable pointing out what I believe is the fatal flaw in his argument. This I do without pouting, whining, leaping about making ape noises or creating the graphical equivalent thereof.

On May.06.2007 at 05:08 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

Yeah really Su... I've been here much longer than you and the amount of social relevance in this blog is overwhelmingly stagnant.

Do you always use sarcasm in the light of other peoples' problems?

On May.06.2007 at 08:15 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:


I'm sorry you feel that way.

For me I view Helvetica as a major achievement for our industry, and I'm embarassed that someone like Armin is in the corner gathering up his groupies and getting them to believe the movie failed.

I rarely draw the line, and I wasn't even going to say anything, but I think he should have considered our industry before himself this one time...

It wasn't a nice day for design, and so what if I cried about it. Thanks.

On May.06.2007 at 08:55 PM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

While I think Poynor's comments about Armin and SpeakUp were a bit juvenile and close-minded, they also happened to provide some evidence of a passionate opinion; something I've very rarely experienced in his writing.

Is anyone else starting to notice the old-man-set-in-his-ways tone of both Poynor and Heller?

On May.06.2007 at 09:51 PM
Su’s comment is:

This is getting silly. Kevin, you have an e-mail coming. Everyone else as you were.

On May.06.2007 at 10:14 PM
ed mckim’s comment is:

i don't recall Armin saying the movie was a failure, i remember him giving an unbiased account of a movie, and pointing out that it was so heavily lauded because by designers with a bias, and a movie that was relevent to them...

furhtermore, while this had potential for a great conversation, it's sad that some of the most engaging people on here are having to argue with trolls.

In my opinion, SpeakUp isn't as much about the posts and the topics as much as it is about the people who are writing them (I mean that in a good way). While marian (as she stated) isn't as talented of a writer compared to Rick Poynor, or the current DO crew, I find her posts much more engaging and interesting. DO is too detached, side some of Michael Bierut's writings.

On May.06.2007 at 10:22 PM
Bo’s comment is:

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

On May.07.2007 at 08:21 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

I hate coming in late to a good discussion.

Much of what I would express has already been said. But I do feel the need to comment further on this point:

Rick claims that Speak Up and Design Observer are "really magazines by another name."

If a blog is the same as a magazine, then a telephone is the same as a megaphone. (I think not.)

While I admire and am very appreciative of Rick Poyner’s contributions to design writing, he doesn’t seem to understand blogs, and the (distintively different) value of a 2-way conversation.

On May.07.2007 at 08:53 AM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

I have yet to see this issue of Print.
(new address, a joy for working, a pain for mail-forwarding). Here's what I can gather, without yet reading the piece.

Speak Up doesn't bring to the conversation what Rick Poynor hopes it would. I can't disagree with that. His hopes are for something that suits his taste--a taste I very much respect, even if I'm best fed by a variety of flavours.

Of couse, I also respect Speak Up for what it has been and what it is, and I look forward to its evolution.

Poynor and Heller along with a small handful of others are so crucial to the design dialogue. Regardless of their opinions, they have extremely deep knowledge in many specific areas of design practice and history and champion the idea of design in wider dialogues and more popular (as in...for the populous) media outlets.

"Set-in-his-ways" is probably more of of what's needed in design criticism. Not in the sense of being closed-minded but in having strong and distinct point of views. This is where journalism and criticism may part ways. It might be best if we learn to understand a similar line ourselves.

I look forward to many voices, including and in addition to Rick's, to build a full and healthy dialogue.

On May.07.2007 at 08:56 AM
felix’s comment is:

great piece, mark.

welcome back.

On most days, Speak Up is a Lone Star beer in lower east side's Doc Holiday's as DO is an expensive read in Midtown's Whiskey Bar. Both are good, stiff, relevant.. and needed in any conversation.

Just be mindful of the order. (beer before liquor, you've never been sicker- better cap the night off with a taste of Armin's burly chest hair)

On May.07.2007 at 11:09 AM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Armin, Marian, Randy, and Felix have already found gracious and thoughtful ways to respond to Rick's article (and M. Kingley's post about it); nevertheless, the issue of definitions -- was is a blog, what is a magazine -- could bear a bit more discussion.

Frankly, I find that the meaning of the word "blog" has been stretched to the point of becoming somewhat useless; it's more of a badge than a descriptor. Some are little more than collections of links, others a form of public diary-making. Others work mainly as venues for otherwise established writers. To suggest that there is a common audience or a set of editorial standards for such a range of content is silly. Of course, the same could be said about printed magazines -- do we expect InStyle to have the same level of content as The New Yorker? The issue is not the medium, but the intent of the publication.

A site like Speak up, with its regularly posted articles and its editorial process (informal as it is), seems to wander into the territory of online magazines. Marian is right: it also works as a community. But insofar as it provides editorial content, I think it does open itself to the kind of criticism that Rick has leveled against it.

That said, I think Rick is being unfair to Armin in assuming that his aim with Speak Up was to revolutionize design criticism; if I remember those heady early days correctly, it seemed that more often than not the editorial target was the elitism of the AIGA (also an unfair criticism, but that's for another post). The goal was to expand the conversation, not to transform it. By those terms, Speak Up has succeeded beautifully.

On May.07.2007 at 01:58 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Mindful of Marian's first rule: I meant M. Kingsley, not Kingley...

On May.07.2007 at 02:01 PM
Brad Gutting’s comment is:

Anyone ever get the feeling that we're all just dancing about architecture here? Trust me--I'd LOVE to slam down a Nikki Sixx line instead of something from Elvis Costello, but it ain't gonna happen cuz Nikki and the rest of the Crue are too busy getting Hep C. I'll give the two diametrically opposed musicians heaps of credit for being what they are: rock 'n rollers. Boo-ya.

Criticism in all fields matters. There's no disputing that, as much as I'm sure many of us...dislike criticism, to put it lightly. Tempted as I am to say that certain individuals write about what other people actually DO, there's no reason to.

But there's no "there" there in this discussion after awhile. So, some internationally recognized design writer whom I rather enjoy reading periodically doesn't take Speak Up seriously. Or that seriously. Or as seriously as some would like.


While the profanity on Speak Up has dissipated over the past few years, its still a NHB, critical, unpredictable environment different than anything printed or otherwise "official." We know its relevant. And that's what counts.

So while I've accidentally aligned Speak Up with Motley Crue, and Poynor with Costello, and therefore torpedoed all credibility, the point is that making noise, posing arguments, thinking quite seriously about things, being playful, being harsh...is kind of all the whole point. Focus on that, keep the energy and attention on DESIGN, and all will continue to be provoking and worthwhile. Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

On May.07.2007 at 04:47 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

But insofar as it provides editorial content, I think it does open itself to the kind of criticism that Rick has leveled against it.

Yes and no. I think that all of the authors on Speak Up have written posts with has much diligence as we can. Most of the time we do try for a certain level of professionalism in the post. The few times I've whipped off some diatribe, I've usually regretted it. So, yes, this does make it closer to a magazine than many of the other blog-forms you mentioned. But I do think the intent, or the focus of this site has always been clearly focussed on interaction.

I do know someone who is not a blog writer who was peeved that his work didn't make it into LC5. When I talked to him about it (some time ago), it never even entered my head for me to be peeved for the same reason. I do consider myself a writer (and have been paid for it), and if I thought that making it into the Looking Closer series was the only way of being deemed relevent, I would have ... well, lobbied! But I don't. And I maintain that for most of the best of Speak Up, you had to be there.

On May.07.2007 at 04:54 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Marian, I see you point. Intent, however, only gets you so far. Even if the purpose of the articles is to encourage dialogue, they are read as editorial content. Obviously not every single one: David Weinberger "Recent Rebranding" posts were clearly prods for discussion. But in the last five years there have been plenty of postings (several by you, as matter of fact) that read very much like magazine articles, even if they were written by non-professional authors. This is a compliment, by the way, as well as a reminder that when we put words out into the public sphere they have a way of spinning out of our control.

As much as I respect Rick Poynor and the DO crew, I don't think that inclusion in LC5 is the only badge of relevance in design writing. In five years, Speak up has built an audience that would make most print authors jealous. That's something to be proud of.

Besides, for all its amateurishness, Speak Up has never published anything as silly as this.

On May.07.2007 at 07:27 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Thanks for the compliment, Jose. But I think intent should get us far enough that we shouldn't have to endure any nya ny' ny' nya nyas for not making it into an arena we never intended on entering in the first place, no?

On May.07.2007 at 09:35 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Fair enough: the article did read a bit like a taunt. All the same, I believe that Rick has every right to criticize Speak Up's output by his own standards. Where I think he makes a mistake is in conflating the general claims for blogging ("it will replace journalism," "the wisdom of crowds," etc) with the more modest goals of Armin and company. Also, I think he's overemphasing the value of LC5 as a measure of good writing in the field. I can't, however, disagree with his call for excellence in design criticism, regardless of venue.

On May.08.2007 at 08:54 AM
David Weinberger’s comment is:

I haven't read the article yet but it seems a bit strange to measure a new medium by the standards of an old one. The authors from DO learned their craft decades before blogs came around and some have adapted their writing style well and some haven't. You decide for yourself on which side Rick falls. The authors from SU learned their craft while writing for a blog and have, in the process, set the standard for design blogs, DO included.

On May.08.2007 at 09:17 AM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

it seems a bit strange to measure a new medium by the standards of an old one

David, the medium is writing, not blogging. You could make a case that blogging constitutes a new genre of prose, and it would certainly be wrong to criticize it without acknowledging its trappings (it's like saying a science fiction novel is bad because it is set in the future), but to claim that it cannot be assessed as prose is a cop-out.

Look, the label for this article (and many others) reads "Essays." Is it strange that the writing is being judged as such?

On May.08.2007 at 09:31 AM
David Weinberger’s comment is:

hey, again I haven't read the article yet but no it's not strange. However it doesn't seem that SU posts were excluded because they didn't qualify as "essays."

On May.08.2007 at 09:48 AM
m.kingsley’s comment is:

Jose, I admittedly chose the "Essays" label with a touch of irony. Somehow "Critique" didn't feel quite right in this particular context -- probably better used when discussing a work of design or art than as a (and this is for Marian) cri de coeur.

Also keep in mind that these categories act as a search aid -- a very bloggy function. Beyond that, I wouldn't read too much into it.

On May.08.2007 at 10:51 AM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

"Cri de coeur" would make a great category name, even if it confuses the search bots. It certainly sounds classier than "Rant" (which I believe was the title of an issue of Emigre).

By the way, now that Amazon allows you to search within books and Google is planning to digitize the text of all published works (unless they're stopped by the EU, I guess), I wouldn't call searchability a particularly bloggy function.

On May.08.2007 at 12:21 PM
m.kingsley’s comment is:

Jose, in answering the question of which came first, chicken or egg; Aristotle argued that since actuality supersedes potentiality, the chicken came first. An object can be a potential something only if there already is an actual thing for it to become.

So I remain by my point. Searchability is a web-based metaphor and thus "bloggy."

On May.08.2007 at 01:22 PM
diane witman’s comment is:

I'm really coming in late on this one but I read this article over the weekend. While I didn't muster up the amount of displeasure that M. Kingsley has expressed, I wasn't exactly thrilled with some of the comments made in the article. I love Speak Up, it gave me a place to connect with the design community who are just as passionate as I am when it comes to design.

Also, I want to point out the difference of the blogs names. Design Observer are really posts that don't focus on passion or desire from the writers. I like Design Observer and visit the site often, but I feel as if the articles presented are unbiased, and almost detached. Doctors use this method to distance themselves from patients which is understandable but when you are a designer talking about a subject related to design, how can you not offer a passionate, feeling stirring opinion?

And next, Speak Up. The name says it all. We all come to this site to be a part of it, not to just read or observe. The site is no longer Armin and Byrony and the contributing authors, it's all of us visiting the site to read, post and share as a community. I have to admit that this is why I visit on an almost daily basis. I know when I come to read a post on Speak Up, it will be an article that is informative, relative and most of all expressive.

On May.08.2007 at 02:15 PM
felix’s comment is:

for those of you, like Diane, who seem to thing DO doesn't or can't offer a passionate rant every now and again, I give you Dan.

back to my AC DC CD

On May.08.2007 at 03:10 PM
Sarah’s comment is:

The thing I find so interesting about blogs is their conversational nature. I personally develop my ideas far better and easier when in conversation in and around a certain topic. For me, the discussion in the comments are equally important as the content of the article.

While magazines have letters to the Editor which somewhat serves this function, there really isn't the same sense of synthesis of ideas through dialogue that can be found on forums such as Speak Up. Plus, as a young designer (and person), I tend to spend more money on life and can't justify costly design publications (but can't live without the internet).

I have already heard the argument against blogging that it's just amateur writing. But before there were professionals (in any field, especially Design) there were amateurs, working on developing their skills out of a desire and love for the area. I think the argument against someone's ideas purely on the basis that they lack 'professional training' is extremely closed minded and only serves those who lack the confidence in their own abilities.

I have somehow lived in a bit of a bubble and haven't come across Design Observer until today. My initial reaction to the homepage is 'yuck.' Looking at it makes me yearn for some whitespace and some leading. And the tone is generally too serious for my liking, but I may grow to appreciate it more.

There seems to be some interesting fragmentation in the Design world. Some of us want to be taken as serious professionals, such as Doctors, Lawyers or even Architects, and write about Design on such academic terms, while others aren't too concerned with taking themselves too seriously. I respect the desire to be respected as a profession, and would really like my mom to understand what I do all day, but I didn't become a Designer so that the world would celebrate me.

I don't have the writing skill or stamina to be part of an Academic discourse. I don't like writing essays and personally find it such a struggle to communicate and develop my ideas on paper. Official debate with rules and points of order has never really interested me. There ends up being a winner and a loser without any room for collaboration.

I agree that it's important to use full sentences, proper grammar, and use words that you understand the meaning of. Editing is of course a good idea to make sure the point you mean to make is in fact being communicated. Sometimes all those levels of the process get in the way of just saying something. The idea can get lost in between the different stages of the writing process.

I read about Design in my spare time, outside of my professional duties so I am not really interested in reading long winded, uninteresting, detatched analysis of Design. I'm much more interested in hearing about what Armin thought of the Helvetica movie, or learning about the language of heraldry.

So I read and sometimes participate in the discussions on Speak Up. I prefer the relaxed tone and find it much more inviting for participation than more 'official' venues for Design discourse where I feel I haven't read enough to be allowed to talk.

Maybe the ideas developed in the articles and comments of Speak Up aren't ground breaking enough to be included in Looking Closer 5. But the community that congregate at Speak Up engage in a less formal version of Design discourse that I feel is no less valid even if we don't always use the spell check.

On May.08.2007 at 04:37 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

DO has published plenty of rants, some of them bordering on the incoherent (Jessica Helfand, a writer I generally respect greatly, has written her share of head-scratchers).

Mark, as anyone who has worked with computers in the pre-internet era knows, searchability is a database metaphor, not a web-based one. Texts have been stored in databases (and hence searchable) long before there was such a thing as the web.

Whether that makes databases chickens or eggs, I have no idea.

On May.08.2007 at 04:39 PM
Christina W’s comment is:

...in answering the question of which came first, chicken or egg; Aristotle argued that since actuality supersedes potentiality, the chicken came first. An object can be a potential something only if there already is an actual thing for it to become.

I'm going to have to disagree with Aristotle and agree with David Weinberger. If things can only become potential somethings that already exist, nothing new would ever evolve. A blog is an evolution of writing, towards informal conversation rather than formal discourse. And, being human, it's difficult to not compare it to a printed magazine, since that's what we know. Aristotle's chicken theory may be right about the way we think - we can only make sense of something new by aligning it with what we already know (take your horseless carriage to work today, anyone?).

(disclaimer: of course I don't mean by "evolution" that the blogs are the new super-race and books should be burned; it's not a value judgement, it's just, well, evolving)

On May.08.2007 at 07:07 PM
diane witman’s comment is:

felix, thank you for the link. I did read that article on DO and thought it was a good review and opinion of the Design Triennial on Dan's behalf. I wasn't trying to say that DO was completely lifeless but it certainly doesn't motivate me to participate in the way that Speak Up has.

On May.08.2007 at 08:37 PM
tarpitizen’s comment is:

Print and blog audiences are different? If so, how come "we" (the readers of this post and responses) seem to know all the editors by their first names? Because the world of design is teeny-tiny, and it all (Print, Eye, Speak Up and Design Observer, etc.) matters...so it seems weird, even Poyner's rant (if M. Kingsley has reported it fairly) to go after one or the other of the forums, especially when the players are so interlinked. As far as Speak Up's inclusion in Looking Closer, at those rates, who cares? It's all archived....right?

On May.09.2007 at 01:36 AM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

Maybe Speak Up's exclusion from Looking Closer 5 doesn't say so much about Speak Up's viability as an editorial source as it speaks to the Looking Closer series' fraternal tendencies. Which is ok.

As far as Poynor's arguments, they seem like the issues of an established writer worried about being supplanted by a new form. It has to be tough to be a critic whose words were once treated as the final say (inasmuch as they could be), now his final say has to be endlessly commented upon by those he considers (rightfully) less-informed. It's kind of like what's gone on in the design community itself - DIYers starting to have a little more pull than they used to, supplanting some designers. What he (and all designers worried about such things) needs to realize is that there's substance, and then control over a substance. I'm not worried about my job as a designer, because I'm good at it and there will always be a place for people who are good at what I do. I can control the substance, and I use that ability to be as good a designer as possible. But there are others who can produce substance, and I don't try to belittle what it is that they do. It's not unlike a commercial director being upset at the video quality on YouTube. Just because you can do it more correctly than someone else doesn't necessarily mean that it's better, or worse.

On May.09.2007 at 10:37 AM
Armin’s comment is:

For those that haven't had a chance to read the article, Print has posted it on their web site.

On May.09.2007 at 02:57 PM
Su’s comment is:

As far as Poynor's arguments, they seem like the issues of an established writer worried about being supplanted by a new form.

This is an easy view to take, but I think it's wrong.

Let's remember that he had plenty of time to try that new form out firsthand, and presumably doesn't like it; he isn't just taking pot shots. I see it as more of thinking the form hasn't matured(enough) yet, though with possibly misguided assumptions that the maturation should follow the same line as and result in the same process as print.

He's chosen someone to use as example of these failings now, though more interestingly it seems he's also got no one to use as the positive example. Including Design Observer, which I at least will lump in with the non-ideal. One would think he'd use his experiences there as the basis for suggestions as to what needs to change, or even what he attempted to change, but instead seems to avoid discussing it altogether.

On May.09.2007 at 05:55 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

Having read Rick's piece, which I did — ironically? — only after it had been published online, I'm finally ready to dip my toe in.

Imagine that a new community of graphic designers suddenly appears. By their own admission, they are unqualified, untutored and sometimes downright amateurish, but they have moments of brilliance, attract big audiences and lots of media attention, and — get this — give it all away for free. How would you feel about this?

I suspect, on some level, that's how the blog world looks to any professional journalist who relies on his or her skill to put bread on the table. Face it, the graphic design community would go absolutely insane if the tables were turned.

On May.09.2007 at 08:07 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Michael, I do think there is a distinction here, and it may be a fine one, but here goes.

You can't stop people from writing, or speaking or drawing, or fiddling around with fonts on their computer. As blog writers, we're discussing, we're working out some shit, we're thinking out loud. And yes, our writing is less polished, less researched, less knowledgeable because we're doing it in our spare time. But what we're not doing is going to Print or any other publication and saying, "Hey, this writing thing sure is fun, I'll write for you for free." That is to say we are not offering our services to anyone for free.

Nor, I might add, are we whining that we didn't get into LC5, so we're not even competing on that front.

So while I understand that it made no sense for Rick to keep blogging: i.e. to do for free what he shd be and needs to be paid to do, I really don't think it's at all threatening to him, nor shd it be.

That community of graphic designers has appeared ... that's all those sons and nephews and neighbours we hear about, seemingly ad nauseum, every time we say the words "graphic design." But Greg said what you have said on this very blog in the past "Do good work," and that's the difference. By the time I'm in a position to be taking food out of the mouth of Rick Poynor, I'll expect to be paid for it, too.


As an aside, I have to say I'm mystified by magazines' online presences. I look at every magazine's attempts to get me to go to their website and read the additional *free* articles etc, and I wonder "Why?" Why do they want me to go to their website? Why do they start blogs? I don't get it. I don't get what's in it for them.

On May.10.2007 at 01:31 AM
JOe MOran’s comment is:

Think outside the naval.


On May.10.2007 at 02:08 AM
ed mckim’s comment is:

what is the argument here? that the writing is poor or that the responses are for the most part, worthless? Or is it both?

As far as the responses go, most of the people who read and post here read and post on Design Observer, not to mention some gimmick users, people like "Design is Not Art" and "Jessica Simpleton" seem to hack, troll, hijack and flame more DO threads than SU ones. That's from my experience at least.

On May.10.2007 at 09:16 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Ed, no, the argument, as I read it in the original article, was that Speak Up has failed to become the brave new voice of design critique, as evidenced by its lack of inclusion in the publication Looking Closer 5, and that therefor Armin's claims to Design Relevancy are dubious. Furthermore, the reason for this failure is given as a lack of editorial process applied to professional writing. Design Observer is intimated to be slightly more successful in this regard.

On May.10.2007 at 09:55 AM
Pesky ’s comment is:

Coming into the party a little late....


...falling on my face out of the chair....

On May.10.2007 at 10:00 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Greg typed: Just because you can do it more correctly than someone else doesn't necessarily mean that it's better, or worse.

What does it mean, then?

I always thought that being more correct is better.

Michael typed: Imagine that a new community of graphic designers suddenly appears. By their own admission, they are unqualified, untutored and sometimes downright amateurish, but they have moments of brilliance, attract big audiences and lots of media attention, and — get this — give it all away for free. How would you feel about this?

It has appeared and continues to appear. I am not going insane. I really could not care less, having my own garden to attend to.

Do good work. Don't play the victim. Don't whine.

On May.10.2007 at 10:17 AM
Pesky ’s comment is:

I do apologize. I'm only an illustrator. Only serious thoughts on Design are acceptable now.

Accusations of silliness against SpeakUp aren't helped by any of my remarks if it is to reach the pantheon of Serious Consideration.

I read both forums, now and then, and both have merits, but it's strictly cannibal stew when you designers eat each other for breakfast.

On May.10.2007 at 10:31 AM
felix’s comment is:

All good things start with whining.

Whining is right.

Whining works.

Whining clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the Speak Up spirit.

Whining, in all of its forms -- Whining about life, money, love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind.

And Whining -- you mark my words -- will not only save Speak Up, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the Design Observer.

On May.10.2007 at 10:49 AM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

One would think he'd use his experiences [at Design Observer] as the basis for suggestions as to what needs to change, or even what he attempted to change, but instead seems to avoid discussing it altogether.

My thinking, despite it's "ease," is that it's because he's attacking a form of dialogue, rather than a specific site. And I'm not just talking about Blog v. Print, but any forum-style discussion, mainly because it encourages self-exploration of a subject matter rather than rote acceptance of an espoused doctrine. I'm not saying that anyone's trying to brainwash us, but that sitting at a seat of, well, for lack of a better word, "power," tends to make people miss it when it starts to go away.

And Steve, what I meant is exactly what Michael said (a little better than I did), that "they are unqualified, untutored and sometimes downright amateurish, but they have moments of brilliance." Sometimes a moment of brillance can outshine a well-polished, edited work. We'd all be wise to learn that.

On May.10.2007 at 11:01 AM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

I think Marian has encapsulated Rick's argument well. There is a subtext to the idea that Speak Up "has failed to become the brave new voice of design critique," however, that I think is causing some confusion.

People who have argued that Speak-up has never claimed to be a voice of design criticism are correct: as Marian and others have pointed out, the goal has always been to encourage dialogue. There is a whole school of punditry, however, that argues that blogs are the future of publishing. These pundits also make extravant claims for the value of "collectively-generated knowledge" (the whole Wiki phenomena) and predict the passing of individual expertise as a generative force in the culture. As I understand it, Rick's article is mounting a defence for individual (and professional) expertise, and suggesting that designers, by the nature of what we do, should be there with him on the ramparts.

By the way, Marian, if people are reading Speak Up (or DO, for that matter) instead of buying Print, Eye, etc, you are, in fact, taking food out of the mouth of Rick Poynor: less profit equals smaller per-word rates. I'm not saying that it is intentional, or even, frankly, Speak Up's fault. But I'm sure it's an issue that weighs on the minds of traditional journalists.

On May.10.2007 at 11:28 AM
Sam Potts’s comment is:

Not a single Speak Up post was included in Looking Closer 5? I can't think of a bigger non-issue. Can't anyone do some honest work around here? The only marginally intersting issue in all this is the laughable conflict of interest (blithely dismissed by Poyner in the Print article), but it's really on the same level as Susie getting more photos of herlself in the yearbook because her boyfriend Bob is the editor.

Just goes to show the level of critique in Print, Speak Up, Looking Closer, New York City, England. Shame!

On May.10.2007 at 11:29 AM
m.kingsley’s comment is:

Sam, as I said in an earlier comment: in the grand scheme, it's insignificant. But the alpha dog in me can't let an insult pass unchallenged.


On May.10.2007 at 01:01 PM
lorraine wild’s comment is:

I've got an essay in LC5 (got the $50 today!) and really, that essay isn't fit for reading on a screen. It's too long, it has too many footnotes, and the yarn it spins is just too much for scrolling, at least to my taste. I was lucky that Emigre, with its relatively liberal editorial policy, was around to publish it: I don't know where such a piece would go today. It was satisfactory to have it published, but had it not been chosen for LC5 I would barely have known that anyone noticed it, that's how little feedback I ever recieved about that piece. "A lovely quality about weblogs is their immediacy," indeed. On the other hand, there are real limitations on the kinds of design writing that work online (which you can see in both DO and Speak Up): perhaps this loss is made up for by the newfound delights of ranting in disguise, but it is a loss.
And if you look at the entire "ecology" of design writing, it's the publication of design criticism in print that is the most endangered, the hardest to sustain, and clearly this is the anxiety fueling Poynor's argument. I don't see how anyone should be really excited about the withering of what was hardly a surplus to begin with.
The lingering "blog versus print" argument is strange, since, as Tarpitizen noted above, a substantial slice of the audience (and the authors) are participating in both: and isn't that audience capable of distinguishing between the different sorts of writing spaces? Certainly when I put down my $28 to buy a copy of Eye at the newstand, I expect something different than when I click on Speak Up, but...here I am, reading both, always waiting to encounter something I have not thought of before, which is relatively rare in these alleged days of critical quietude. But maybe that new program in design criticism at SVA will change all that, hmmm?

On May.10.2007 at 06:30 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:


Pardon my lawyerly dissection but the cliché is missing a word. As stated, the egg came first. The problem is that the preceding eggs is not a chicken egg until we know there is going to be a chicken and we only know that there was going to be a chicken when there actually is a chicken. A different answer might come from questioning which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg.

It would seem that Rick has failed to find reasonable critical standards for a discussion of online conversations but the self-congratulation one reads on Speak Up about blogs supplanting print is so much nonsense.

I would suggest that everyone read Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson (including his discussion of why his book was a book rather than a video game of a television show) before engaging in media bashing of any sort. Different media are different. (Duh.) Mr. Poyner seems to complain that the omelet failed to be sushi made with sea urchin roe. His notes about the dish being poorly cooked may transcend his categorical errors, however.

All of the relativist excuses, mindless bragging, denial, and self-contradiction make me wonder what will come first, the soy protein simulated chicken or the freeze-dried eggs. Rick got it wrong but that is no excuse for assuming that someone who got it right would have been much kinder.

So everyone listen to Marian, Su, Lorraine, and Steven Johnson. And have some vegetables with the chicken or the egg (whether avian or echinoderm.) No overcooking, please.

On May.10.2007 at 07:58 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

Gunner and Su, I don't understand why you think Poyner should focus on improvements at DO.

That wouldn't make any sense in his article. Some of their contributers have been published in LC5...

I don't see the relevancy, please discuss.

On May.11.2007 at 12:32 AM
Su’s comment is:

I don't think I said or even implied he should focus on anything. I just find his seeming reticence[1] curious.
You can't publish for two years on one of the few at least somewhat respected sites in this area(the one that got four pieces in the book), then take off while tossing out a bunch of generalized failings in blogs as format, and then hoist another one up as failed example(and I can come up with a few worse ones) without raising some questions. Such as my original one.

Some of their contributers have been published in LC5...

Which would give the impression that DO is getting it right. So why'd he take off?

[1] Maybe just publicly? I haven't mailed him on this, though it's now a public question, in my opinion.

On May.11.2007 at 01:29 AM
Su’s comment is:

And because I just realized nobody's brought it up, these are the four DO pieces in the book:

  1. My Country is Not a Brand (Drenttel)
  2. Designing Under the Influence (Bierut)
  3. The Shock Of The Old: Rethinking Nostalgia (Helfand)
  4. Method Designing: The Paradox of Modern Design Education (Helfand)

...which those more versed can comment on the quality of. I'm personally more interested in the media/format comparison itself than the specific examples involved.

On May.11.2007 at 01:35 AM
Greg’s comment is:

For a little debate fuel, as though it was needed, I found this over at DO from July 2005 (I was wondering why my memory was itching so bad). Of particular interest was this paragraph (italics added for effect):

"Designers’ widespread fantasy that they could easily operate as editors given the breaks is part of the general devaluation of expertise in our culture and a growing suspicion of those who presume to decide what we should know about. The Internet’s rise has fuelled this scepticism. Blogs flourish as alternative, write-it-yourself sources of information and commentary that pose a direct challenge to the entrenched authority of print publishing. I sympathise with this. I’m a blogger, after all. (...) At their worst editors in positions of power presume to act as gatekeepers, while often seeming to be complacent in their ignorance and deeply patronising to the readers they claim to serve. How useful to have blogs as one possible corrective — if there’s an obstacle in your way, step around it."

-Rick Poynor

On May.11.2007 at 08:16 AM
diane witman’s comment is:

Could part of his argument possibly be that those articles from DO that were published in LC5 are also authors who have written several books (besides the Looking Closer series), giving them more of an "author" or author-like credibility? Am I wrong on this?

Maybe the bone he is trying to pick is with the fact that those who write blogs do not have several books under their belts, therefore not giving them the credibility of authors.

On May.11.2007 at 09:52 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

From the moment I read Mr. Poynor's piece in Print, all I could think about was the Macintosh computer.

What does the Macintosh have to do with Critics and Writer$ who get paid and critics and writers who blog for free (or sometimes a paycheck)? When the Macintosh became a design tool (technology), it changed the way designers worked, and revolutionized the practice. People were running scared worrying that anybody and everybody would become designers. I understand why certain writers would have similar reactions to weblogs, online publishing, and Web 2.0. As a designer in the late 90s, I feared for my life because I saw design boom into a have-Mac-will-design arena. Online publishing has done something similar by democratizing how people create and communicate. (And it also frees writers from the traditional editing and review process to boot.)

Mr. Poynor is defending his practice and striving for quality. Who can argue with that? Who can fault that? In The Time For Being Against by Rick Poynor Presented at Looking Closer: AIGA Conference on Design History and Criticism February 2001 (which used to be available on AIGA's website, but no longer so you have to buy Looking Closer 4 to read it), Mr. Poynor dutifully identifies what it takes to be a critic. If he doesn't see qualified writing out there, fine, but let's understand that weblogs and magazines are different.

How can you compare apples to oranges?
And what do such comparisons elicit?

On May.11.2007 at 10:00 AM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

I don't think I said or even implied he should focus on anything.

Lets take a walk down memory lane Su, you wrote,

"One would think he'd use his experiences there (Design Observer) as the basis for suggestions as to what needs to change, or even what he attempted to change, but instead seems to avoid discussing it altogether."

Clearly you are suggesting RP to focus on the flaws at DO and that he suggest some universal changes in design blogging, in which he actually did touch on in his article.

He clearly feels that DO is the cream of the crop, and I think any serious writer would aspire to their level, which is why I'm not completely sold that Armin and SpeakUp never wanted to be published alongside Heller, etc.


I just find his seeming reticence[1] curious.

Your question to RP.... How much of your criticism of design blogs includes DO itself? And your persistent claim he owes you an answer... and it's of 'public interest' now...

It's not even a matter of being reticent in my mind, but rather he doesn't feel he's required nor cares to explain himself to you.

Ask yourself the same question first. When was the last time you were critical of SpeakUp? What makes you think RP would crap in his own kitchen, especially when the likes of Heller, etc are seated, and have been seated probably before you were born.

Is this the type of "longevity" you don't acknowledge?

On May.11.2007 at 12:14 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Bruce Nussbaum at Business Week made some of the same statements about designers (but not specifically graphic designers) that people are making about writers here. Many of us disagreed, with aspects of what he said (as well as with his take on our response.) That doesn’t mean that he was all wrong or there aren’t parallels here.

The copywriting business changed in the late ’90s when more work was directed toward the web. It many ways it was detrimental to writing, writers, and clear thought. For instance, writing for websites and other interactive formats destroys presumptions about the value of time-honored and useful techniques such as foreshadowing. Like pretty much everything else, the web is a good news/bad news joke.

BTW, I haven’t been active on Speak Up in recent time but I have been in the past and I have had (print) essays reprinted in earlier editions of Looking Closer. I have also written for and edited books. My writing plans for the near future concentrate on print for many reasons—some of them personal/selfish/careerist and some of them from respect for the material and the ideas the writing is about. I join Lorraine in lamenting the loss of Emigre and in noting that the movement of serious consideration of graphic design from print to web has not been entirely without negative consequence.

I would love to see a couple of the Speak Up authors tackle longer work that would be most suitable for books or other print media. That’s not because I would like to see any of Speak Up’s energy siphoned off but because it would be good to see some of the worthwhile ideas posted here teased out in a more systematic way than is possible in the conversational anarchy of this format. Rick is right that time, rewriting, and having a good editor all improve a writer’s work. That doesn’t negate the value of conversation. It just [sorry, Fish] means that some thoughts require a more orderly consideration.

Even though it was not entirely without merit, I stand by my statement that Poynor’s piece in Print used standards of criticism of one form inappropriately on another.

On May.11.2007 at 12:32 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

Finally! Thanks Gunner... if anything that should come out of this, it should be positive!

Cheers, to a true gun.

On May.11.2007 at 01:14 PM
Su’s comment is:

Clearly you are suggesting RP to focus on the flaws at
You appear to be confusing "this might have been an interesting point" with "focus your piece around this."

When was the last time you were critical of SpeakUp?
As an entire venture? Never. The last site I criticized at that level was Valleywag, yesterday. But then I've also repeatedly argued against the entitlement some readers feel toward telling a site what its editorial direction, level of social responsibility, etc. should be. I take plenty of issue with individual items posted, and if you're under the impression I don't, you're not paying attention.

He clearly feels that DO is the cream of the crop,
I'm glad you feel confident enough to put words in his mouth. But don't try to invalidate the question by claiming I feel personally entitled to a response; I just happened to be the one who asked it. If you're comfortable with the situation, that's your opinion, but I'm not the only one who isn't.

Is this the type of "longevity" you don't acknowledge?
If you'll read over what you're referring to, I said that longevity does not inherently count for anything. (It has not gone unnoticed, by the way, that you never told me what your criterion for claiming to have been here longer than me is.) Since you chose to name him, I do generally like Heller while still disagreeing on some things, and despite his longevity and output he is not infallible, as evidenced rather recently on a blog, ironically enough. Good thing Michelangelo didn't think he was above challenging.

On May.11.2007 at 02:48 PM
Joyce Rutter Kaye’s comment is:

Rick's response to this discussion is now up on printmag.com.


On May.11.2007 at 05:06 PM
ps’s comment is:

coming very late to the discussion... but telling that Poynor does not participate in the discussion where it happens but elsewhere....

On May.11.2007 at 05:50 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

I have now read Rick Poynor's response to all of this in that other place.

There are many things I could address, but it would involve a lot of repetition, clarification, quoting and requoting.

Instead, I'd like to look at this, where he says:

A piece of writing without at least several of the following qualities (in no particular order) will amount to very little:

1. New information or arguments
2. Exceptional knowledge of a subject
3. Relevance to readership
4. Range and depth of research
5. Accuracy of reporting
6. Capacity to weigh the evidence, and reliability of judgement
7. Quality of writing style
8. Originality of individual sensibility and approach

And in light of that, I'd like to look at one of my favourite pieces of my own writing, "Ye Olde Graphic Designer". I would say it hits the mark on points 3, 7 and 8; possibly 1, depending on how you look at it. Is that "several"? or just a few? Whether it makes the grade or not, it's certainly missing the bulkier weight which would lob it into the category of critical writing. Does that mean it "amounts to very little" or, worse, is "half-baked and shitty?" I don't think so. In fact, I'm going to go so far as to say I think it's a terrific piece (and some very good (published) writers, Rick among them, have praised me for it). It's funny, and original, it looks at something from an unexpected perspective, it's well written and a damned good read. But does it belong in a compendium of critical essays like LC5? Absolutely not. It's too personal, casual, and I might add, relies heavily on the accompanying graphics which must necessarily be printed in colour.

The vast majority of the pieces I've written for Speak Up have the same qualities as "Ye Olde Graphic Designer," to varying degrees of success. I have made a specialty of this quirky, off-centre, personal design writing which demands the inclusion of multiple colour images. They are also usually quite long. I am really not sure where they would belong in the print world, but does this mean I "have no interest in developing as [a] writer outside the safe world of [my] own self-created blog-club"? Absolutely not. In fact I already have developed as a writer within this blog-club. I have every interest in developing further, here or elsewhere. But it does mean I've found a really great forum for the kind of piece I thoroughly enjoy writing, and where I have the joy or sorrow of getting immediate feedback and discussion.

I absolutely agree that all writing could benefit from the help of a professional editor. I agree that the ability to pay writers and editors would result in longer, better writing most of the time. (Though some of the stuff I've seen printed makes me wonder.)

But I vehemently disagree with this narrow definition of what kind of writing is good or valuable. I will defend my writing, and some of the other Speak Up authors' writing as good and interesting and valuable without necessarily hitting "several" of the points for what essentially points to researched critical writing — while at the same time reiterating my previous comments about the value of reading and taking part in discussion as something wholly separate from the essay pieces. While Rick may say that he is only addressing the initial essay(s) in his critique, I reply that to ignore the discussion as a huge part of the reading experience is to miss the point of a blog.

In short, I say there is room for more, and I'm glad there's room for more, because I like a little vegetables with my meat and cake to follow.

On May.11.2007 at 11:13 PM
William Drenttel’s comment is:

Essay...response...discussion...response...more discussion. I think it's interesting that Print publishes the essay and Speak Up hosts the discussion — an implicit separation (of form, venue, mode of production, etc.) that makes for a bizarre reading experience.

On May.12.2007 at 12:26 PM
Armin’s comment is:

As Bill points out, this turn of events is a little too weird. And I, personally, would rather discuss only what has been posted here so far. I really find it off-putting that the response was not posted here. But whatever. I just want to (snarkily) point one thing out:

> 5. Accuracy of reporting


> (I’d love to hear those lunchtime chats between Armin Vit and his boss Michael Bierut about why none of SU’s pieces made the cut.)

Accurate reporting (and pehaps good editing?) would have revealed that I'm currently on paternity leave and haven't had lunch with my boss in three weeks, leaving little opportunity to discuss the aftermath of this discussion.

; )

On May.12.2007 at 01:42 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

I think my colleague Armin would agree that he and I talk about our respective blogs very rarely in the office, even when he is not out on a much deserved paternity leave, perhaps because it would leave us little time to do, um, actual design work.

I've been hesitant to get into the details of why something is or isn't included in any of the Looking Closer anthologies, partly because I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the books are some kind of final arbiter of design writing quality. Each of the editors has used his or her own value system, quirks and all, and I have no doubt that worthy things have been excluded over the years.

In my opinion, much of the best writing in the original posts on Speak Up is (1) casual in tone, and (2) specifically designed to launch discussion. In addition, some of my personal favorites have been, as Marian observes above, been profusely illustrated. All of these factors combine to create fewer candidates for an unillustrated design anthology than you'd expect, although I agree they make for a great, spirited blog.

On May.12.2007 at 03:44 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I suppose that Rick Poynor’s choice of venue for answering this thread could be stranger and I don’t know that an unrestricted and offhand conversation is the best place to work out the question of the intellectual value of unrestricted offhand conversations. He does continue to make the same mistake in his reply that he made in his original column when he says: what does it actually mean when applied to the parts of blogs—the initial posts—that are in many respects no different from published writing?

In some respects the original posts on Speak Up can be similar to published writing but, as Michael Bierut pointed out, much of the best . . . is. . . specifically designed to launch discussion. The intent is clearly different.

If Rick’s intent was to make the point that the replacement of sustained, considered prose by looser conversation results in a loss of focus then, great; I’m on board with him. I often found myself frustrated when my specifically-designed-to-launch-discussion topics launched discussion that seemed to indicate that nobody actually read my post (or at least that nobody cared about it.) An essay is a great way for an author to understand a specific topic and to help the reader understand. Speak Up is many good things but not a good tool for that sort of focused mental rigor.

Please note that I am not claiming that essayists are generically smarter than Speak Up contributors or that focused mental rigor is always superior or even appropriate but the intellectual takeaway from having read a volume of Looking Closer is likely to be greater than an equal number of Speak Up words.

I’d even back him on his claim that Speak Up articles not having been included in Looking Closer 5 is a measure of some lack of long-term interest. I have to confess that I started to look at my old Speak Up posts to see if they seemed to be bad essays disguised as conversation starters and got sidetracked rereading the answers to my query about short essays about graphic design. The answers were in turn perceptive, interesting, funny, silly, and completely divorced from my question. In other words, the epitome of Speak Up. It is worth noting that the lion share of suggestions that did correspond to my question were articles that had been reprinted in the Looking Closer series.

That said, some of the discussion in that thread ended up in the most recent Stop Being Sheep but no article from Print was published in that booklet. (That observation is only slightly more stupid than the insistence that Speak Up posts should appear in a book of essays.)

Where the article in question was most relevant was in rebuttal to grandiose statements about the nature of Speak Up in particular or blogs in general. Poynor’s point should not have been that Speak Up is a poor imitation of a book of essays but that it would be a poor substitute for one.

On May.12.2007 at 06:20 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

I wish I had the liberty to be as hypocritcal as your following thought Su...

The last site I criticized at that level was Valleywag, yesterday. But then I've also repeatedly argued against the entitlement some readers feel toward telling a site what its editorial direction...

But don't try to invalidate the question by claiming I feel personally entitled to a response

...I'm not trying to invalidate your curiousity, what I'm trying to do is for you to look at yourself first before pointing fingers. RP didn't criticize DO just as you don't criticize SpeakUp. I know that eMails, chat and blogs can get confusing, but are you getting it?

As far as longevity goes... I did answer you, it's here, you just have to look around.

I'll admit I don't know who critiqued Michelangelo and how he felt about it, but I do know one thing... I really don't care if you have anything bad to say about Stephen Heller, and I kind of wish you'd keep that shit to yourself because as far as I'm concerned you haven't done anything minutely close to what he has done for design.

Experience inherently gives you knowledge.

In my defense, compañero is not an obscure word. It's used all over Latin and South America. It means more than friends and the English word 'colleague' does not accurately express what compañero means... Armin you know this, so stop with the Kevin is trying to say, and nobody uses that word pucky.

If you'd like to hear the word in action, rent The Corporation and pay attention to the spot on privatising rain water in Bolivia.

On May.14.2007 at 12:27 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

that makes for a bizarre reading experience.

Well, maybe it will all be published together in a book one day. ;)

On May.14.2007 at 01:31 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I suspect that we’ve made too much of the multiple-venue nature of this discussion. I suppose you could count Print and printmag.com as separate entities which would mean that the conversation is in three places. That’s not a record and there is a lot of precedent for diffused-site discussions. Arguments spread over separate magazines go way back and multiple-blog arguments are common. (The Bruce Nussbaum/NextD thing I mentioned in an earlier post on this thread is mainly on two websites but spread out over several other blogs, too. That’s sort of what makes blogs bloggy, eh?)

This subject reminds me of another instance of someone taking on an important topic and finding that being clear and persuasive required better writing and editing than it initially seemed. Many years ago Steven Heller wrote a frustrated stab at a serious issue. “The Cult of the Ugly” appeared in Eye. I think Steve will agree with me that it was not his best work but that it didn’t deserve the overwhelming negative reaction it caused. I don’t know whether he would agree that it was one of his more important and compelling subjects.

Michael Dooley did a series of interviews with Jeff Keedy, Ed Fella, etc. where they responded to the Eye article. The interviews appeared in Emigre. Letters about Steve’s article and the interviews appeared in a later edition of Emigre.

Rick Poynor (then-editor of Eye) responded with an editorial in Eye. It was a nice and insightful piece of writing. I don’t just say that because he agreed with my letter to Emigre (but I have quoted him on many occasions: “Gunnar Swanson is right.” Hey; go with the voice of authority.)

Nobody clarified the “Ugly” issues in writing; all of us worked out the part we needed to work out on our own. I suspect the whole thing would seem either quaint or bizarre to someone who didn’t live through that era of graphic design. It will be interesting to see if anyone remembers this discussion in fifteen years. I’m guessing that it won’t be as vivid for me as the “Ugly” battle (even if Rick posts “Gunnar Swanson is still right.” Rick—if you’re reading this, that would be nice.)

On May.14.2007 at 07:45 AM
Su’s comment is:

Kevin, longevity does not stand alone. It's a function of other qualities. Showgirls is going to be around for a very long time, and not because it's good.

Also, I would suggest you stop trying to give me Spanish lessons—trust me, I don't need them—and instead focus on the original point of getting your foreign words right if you're going to be so patronizing as to use them at native speakers.

On May.14.2007 at 09:53 AM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

It's called a typo... and by all means it's a correct word.

1) You're not getting under my skin.
2) The spanish BS wasn't aimed at you, but Armin because he mentioned it. Sorry if you're confused.
3) So, essentially I'm not trying to teach you or anyone anything, but correcting Armin's whim.
4) What you view as patronizing, I do not.

On May.14.2007 at 12:48 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> I suspect that we’ve made too much of the multiple-venue nature of this discussion.

Gunnar, when the door is completely open to reply directly — as opposed to the good ol' days of retorting two months later when the next issue of whatever came out — I do find it weird. And I use "weird" because I don't want to offend anyone with what I really think. The Nussbaum/NextD example is similar, but the replies in NextD were gathered from a bunch of different people, requiring prep time and a single onslaught. The Emigre/Eye/Cult of the Ugly example is legendary but not quite applicable to what we have here in 2007 and the immediate, face-to-face reaction that blogs allow. Addressing the comments on Speak Up as if from a distant and separate land, while unfolding in real and current time, was unnecessary. And I use "unnecessary" because I don't want to offend anyone with what I really think.

On May.14.2007 at 02:16 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Yesterday’s “Talk of the Nation” on NPR had an interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Megan Daum about her May 5 column. The main topic was an Illinois teenager arrested for the content of a “free writing” assignment in his high school English class but the heart of the (too-brief and not particularly deep) discussion was the changes in expectations about what sort of writing should be public and what sort of consideration should be given to editing and reconsideration.

In the Illinois case, it seems that the teacher asked for private, unedited, unconsidered thought and turned a student in to the police when she found his thoughts disturbing. She didn’t seem to understand that she got what she asked for. Rick Poynor’s Print column had problems but in some ways it is akin to the teenager’s writing: each takes a (perhaps-unserious) challenge seriously and those making the challenges seem to want to avoid any responsibility.

Does anyone believe that silly claims have not been made in comparisons between blogs and the “mainstream press” in general and between Speak Up and the printed design press in particular? (Is the phrase “printed press” too weird?)

I suspect that at least some Speak Uppers have seemed to some be arrogant punks who disrespect important aspects of quality that they lack. In response Rick has appeared to some to be vindictive, self-interested, narrow, and fearful. I don’t believe that either is a particularly accurate view of the parties in question. Even if it were, it would be a shame for anyone to fall victim to an ad hominem error and ignore the important points about nature of different media and about how examples of each can be judged and what they could or should be.

The point that Daum starts to make about the results of a breakdown in traditional assumptions about private and public is also worth considering.

On May.15.2007 at 01:11 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I seemed to have missed the discussion of the year.

Ok, from top down, and my apologies for any duplicate retorts.

1. "The off-handed comment from a working professional offered in an informal manner is a gift shared, while the same information in a classroom is a rule espoused." That point, Mark, is the difference between SU and a design journal.

Many here have had similar responses -- that SU is about dialogue, not one-way criticism. That's why I originally joined, and why so many loyal readers, authors, and posters continue to keep it alive.

Certainly, as SU grew, it went beyond pure conversational fluff and began to develop more serious content and critical analysis. SU became a place that could foster both sophmoric banter as well as more intelligently written design criticism. I believe that was the zenith of SU, when the silly coexisted with the serious, just as long as both were interesting.

I believe that it was at this point that DO was formed -- as an alternative site for those who sought more critical writings on design than SU could provide.

Like Marian, I've always seen SU as sort of a neighborhood pub, where you meet w/ friends to talk, laugh, share, fight, and learn. DO became the wine bar that opened next door. Some left, but I still prefer beer.

2. "I suspect, on some level, that's how the blog world looks to any professional journalist who relies on his or her skill to put bread on the table."

Only one other commented on Michael's spot-on analogy. I think it's a brilliant way to look at it.

Also, like many others who have met Rick, it's immediately evident that the man knows how to fucking write about design. He has earned the right to set any standards and make any list he wants. He has defined the genre and while it is unfortunate that he hasn't embraced SU, it doesn't mean much. It just means he prefers a wine tasting over a rowdy beerfest.

3. "Certainly when I put down my $28 to buy a copy of Eye at the newstand, I expect something different than when I click on Speak Up, but...here I am, reading both, always waiting to encounter something I have not thought of before, which is relatively rare in these alleged days of critical quietude."

Hey, Lorraine Wild gets it, Rick.


Welcome back Mark. It's been a while for me too...

On May.15.2007 at 01:49 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

Mark Andresen correctly noted that this is a pompous ego war.

I'll note that the most provocative discussion Speak Up has had in months is this self-congratulatory rant about its own relevance. I find quite a bit of irony in that.

On May.15.2007 at 03:34 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

I was beginning to become very reluctant to post here after all this. I don't write deep critical tomes about design.

As I see it, print and blogs have their method shaped differently, that's all. Print is linear: writers-to-readers and the blog is more circular: writers-to-readers-as-responders in a fluid exchange.

So I don't understand all the ego mauling and bawling you designers do. It's tragically shortsighted when you consider that the rest of Mankind doesn't give a shit what you do for a living or what you think of Helvetica, it's hot air.

SU and DO each serve a different function and that ought to be enough. The original article, which I finally read, seems to be more personal than theoretical. Not my fight. But I would say it was uncalled for pettiness.

I'm making a promise to myself of no more funny stuff (with the exception of WordIt). Which means I'll probably never post a sober sentence again.

Used to be fun.

On May.15.2007 at 04:22 PM
pesky’s comment is:

Dan, you one-eyed coyote, you beat me to it by seconds! Well, sorry I can't talk. contact me, I have something for ya.

On May.15.2007 at 04:27 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Pesky, this isn't really about ego -- so it shouldn't be dismissed as a simple pissing contest.

Those of you posting holier-than-thou, I-don't-care-about-such-insignificant-issues, this-is-petty-pompous-bs retorts -- why don't you just stay out of the discussion then. If you don't think the argument has enough interest for you, then with all respect, tell it to someone else who gives a shit. Don't post just to posture.

The irony isn't that SU is talking about itself -- the irony is that these asinine comments are proving Rick's point that anonymous postings are often worth shit. That'sirony.

I think it's a fair enough point from Poynor -- that critical writing is a learned skill, and that little of it can be found on blogs, especially SU. That blog writers, are in fact, nothing of the sort unless they aim higher and actually learn to write.

Mark disagrees, Marian disagrees, as do I to some extent -- and cites his own opinion on the value of a his own writing, and the value of others' on SU.

Some might say that we're slicing the bologna a bit thin -- but I like Gunnar's point that rather than be exclusionary in defining what is and isn't writing, we look at the bigger picture, and discuss the differences in content across media prose/press in general.

On May.16.2007 at 02:46 PM
pesky’s comment is:

Tan, I've always respected your opinion. But in reading the Poynor piece in Print I saw statements laced with something other than a discussion about sustaining critical design writing. If there was a larger issue besides the unworthiness of SU I thought it was in a secondary placement. If that is valid fine, but that wasn't the only issue raised. Blogs are blogs, for God's sake! Not all of us are professors. We claim to be working professionals though.

I AM interested in the subject and doing any holier-than-thou posture was not MY reason for speaking up. Sorry if you took it that way.

Armin can certainly defend himself, and if he's got a pinata ( where's that accent mark, damn it) for a head, people will always take swings at it. But the text I read seemed to be colorized with loaded innuendos and inferred putdown, as Kingsley notes - I can point out several specific sentences if you wish - so, I still disagree with you.

I also went back and read Marian's piece "Ye Old Graphic Designer" to remind me why I like her insightful intelligence and sparkling humor so much. Did that one make the Looking Closer 5 book? I don't know. Someone tell me.

I agree that a discussion of the bigger picture ought to come out of this besides Su talking about SU. I just see designers chewing each others ankles sometimes and that's discouraging.

On May.16.2007 at 03:49 PM
ben...’s comment is:

Are those writing critically on design also designers?
Does an average graphic designer want to be a critical writer about design? If they did, maybe the blog gives them a chance to test the waters... or at least feel heard when before maybe they could only be heard by being selected by the editor of a design magazine and possibly being published in the next issue one month later. Maybe design blogs are more relevant than design magazines as the blog is immediate.
Are the blogs/magazines entertainment or education? Sometimes people just want to escape what they are doing...

On May.16.2007 at 04:34 PM
Christina W’s comment is:

"One commenter suggests that blogs are “an evolution of writing, towards informal conversation rather than formal discourse.” This might sound 21st century and progressive, but what does it actually mean when applied to the parts of blogs—the initial posts—that are in many respects no different from published writing? (And I repeat: this is the aspect of blogs I am discussing here.)"

Ooh, I got quoted by Rick Poyner! THAT is why blogs are cool. THAT is the connection that print doesn't give, when you live in a hick city in the middle of the prairies about as far away from NYC as you can get.... ah, whew, OK - got that out of my system.

I would like to post a response to several of Mr. Poyner's points. Gunnar and Michael B have already covered this, but I'll reiterate - what my comment actually means, when applied to the initial essay post of a blog, is that the author has the option to anticipate an immediate discussion, which would impact the style of writing. Blog authors may use this to refine their theories and their writing. Paul Graham writes that he would have been scared to publish any of his work had it not been tested out and refined online first. He also writes that "The most important sort of disobedience is to write essays at all. Fortunately, this sort of disobedience shows signs of becoming rampant... Anyone can publish an essay on the Web, and it gets judged, as any writing should, by what it says... Who are you to write about x? You are whatever you wrote."

"They are far more like writing than conversation, even if the style is conversational..."

That may be a valid point, but I would contend that the line is blurring, especially in light of the growth of text messaging and Facebook-style conversations.

"If the implication is that blog-post writers are somehow absolved by the medium from the need to bear in mind points 1 to 8, then this can only suggest a wholesale plunge into Kingsley’s half-baked, shitty mess. Only someone with very little experience of genuine quality could find that appealing."

No one is absolved from the quest to pursue excellence - assuming, indeed, that that is your original choice (as Marian points out, we shouldn't assume so). But the potential for the internet is in the participation. The writing may indeed be unfinished... cake batter is generally a shitty mess, though still delicious, it doesn't hold form on its own. Just don't confuse it for a cake.

On May.16.2007 at 07:14 PM
pnk’s comment is:

The writing may indeed be unfinished... cake batter is generally a shitty mess, though still delicious, it doesn't hold form on its own. Just don't confuse it for a cake.

Problem is, you might fill up on the batter and not order the cake when you get down to the bistro. To Tan/Michael's point, as a baker of cakes (ohh, this is fun: great analogy, Christina!), RP is understandably impatient with those who'd choose batter.

So... Get baked, Speak Up!

On May.16.2007 at 08:23 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> But in reading the Poynor piece in Print I saw statements laced with something other than a discussion about sustaining critical design writing.

Sure, there is definitely aggressive language being lobbed back and forth. And yes, I know Kingsley takes great pleasure in crafting his obscure innuendos and insults back to Poynor. But that's what colors the debate, it doesn't define it.

> I just see designers chewing each others ankles sometimes and that's discouraging.

Unless the language degrades to the point of name-calling, then I find this sort of smackdown rather passionate and entertaining. There might even be some intelligent comments that results -- Lorraine Wild's comment, for example.

Ok, back to the discussion.

I had a thought last night about this. I do understand Rick's list of 8 qualities that define "real" writing -- but I was thinking that those same exact 8 qualities could be applied to formal design.

Just to remind you, they are:

1. New information or arguments (or messaging)
2. Exceptional knowledge of a subject
3. Relevance to readership (or viewer)
4. Range and depth of research
5. Accuracy of reporting (communication)
6. Capacity to weigh the evidence, and reliability of judgement
7. Quality of writing (design) style
8. Originality of individual sensibility and approach

Only there's a difference.

If we applied this exact set of criterias to design -- I think the type of design work that would pass would likely be a) a very narrow field; b) be more mechanical than creative; and c) be rejected by the profession as being too exclusionary.

Sure, design at its core is a very disciplined, defined craft. But the real beauty of design lies in the celebration of the uncommon, the exceptions to the rules, and the organic nature of work that breeds variety and redefines the craft daily.

Why couldn't writing be as open to change and acceptance? Why must there only be one way -- your way -- Rick?

On May.17.2007 at 11:55 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

that the author has the option to anticipate an immediate discussion, which would impact the style of writing. Blog authors may use this to refine their theories and their writing.

This is an interesting point. I have at times had my mind changed by commentary following a post (or certainly commentary following a comment), and have had "the audience" add ideas or depth, or pointed out glaring flaws in my original post. Sometimes I stubbornly defend, which is fun and good exercise for the brain, and sometimes I concede. If I were to print-publish any of my original posts from Speak Up, I would certainly read the commentary and make adjustments, additions, and probably footnoted retractions and clarifications. In fact, when I reprinted "Ye Olde Graphic Designer" in the Fox River Paper promotion, I noted that heraldry geeks in the blogosphere had decried my lack of knowledge on the subject — and at the same time got a little dig in at them ... all of which was fair, instructive, retractive and fun.

As far as this whole biting of ankles thing goes, I'm a little mystified. I don't see the ego here, or the pissing contest. Rick Poynor, who is a critic, made critical remarks about this site. We responded. Some of his remarks were edgy, some of ours responded in kind. None of it seems a big deal to me.

As for the "no fun" commentary, puhleeez! This discussion (which is not "self-congratulatory" but rather defensive while under attack) is the first we've had in a while where some thoughtful commentary is required. Like Tan, I put my head in my hands at times when every criticism of this site comes true right before my very eyes. I don't think it's too much to ask people to use their brains before they commit to speaking/writing. I, for one, happen to find it piles of fun to organize my thoughts and engage in lively debate in a constructive, hopefully intelligent manner. And if you can do so and get your digs in at the same time, it's even better.

Expand your repertoire.

On May.17.2007 at 05:41 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Does anyone believe that silly claims have not been made in comparisons between blogs and the “mainstream press” in general and between Speak Up and the printed design press in particular?

Claims have been made, but have claims been made by us? Armin? I have certainly never made those claims, and I don't remember anyone else here officially making them either, though I neither follow nor remember everything. But I feel a little disgruntled for being ticked off for something I/we didn't do. If Armin has been out saying that SU is the cat's ass in design criticism, that we no longer need print publications, that blogs are better than print, or that editors are an unecessary waste of human resources, I would disagree with him. But I'm not aware of him or any other of the site's authors having said that.

On May.17.2007 at 05:57 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I don't think I have...
I have said many things, but I don't think I have ever claimed that blogs, and Speak Up in particular, would replace magazines or books. I have said that we would give them a run for their money and shake them up a bit, specially with the Instant Publishing Gratification System that is blogging. And to an extent I do think we have, which is deadly apparent in magazine's efforts to launch online companions to their printed efforts — which touches on your previous question Marian. The problem is that these online endeavors don't offer much companionship, they just mirror some of the content of the magazine. In my mind, the only magazine that has been able to jump online effectively is HOW, with a blog that complements their editorial and aesthetic missions quite effectively. But I digress.

Unless someone can unearth any claims I may have made about Speak Up being better or equal to print, I'll hold my ground that I haven't. We are just… different.

On May.17.2007 at 06:50 PM
Su’s comment is:

I predict "We killed Emigre" being the most common(and incorrect) citation.

On May.17.2007 at 07:42 PM
Joe Natoli’s comment is:

After reading all of this -- and Rick's article in Print, all I can say is this:

I have been a designer for 15 years now, running my own firm. Two years ago I cancelled my subscriptions to Print, CA and HOW. I don't miss any of them.

Over the past two (2) years, Speak Up has been infinitely more valuable -- and more relevant -- to me as a professional designer than 13 years of so-called "criticism" from the design elite.

These publications suffer from the same disease I see throughout our profession: the Rick Poynors of the world become so wrapped up in their definitions of "proper dialogue" that they forget the value of meaningful exchange . They broadcast from on high instead of inviting true discourse. Print has had nothing meaningful to say to me for the past 10 years -- i check it out at the newsstand and find little in the way of practical, useful information.

There is no sharing of struggles, no relevant questions being raised that force me to re-examine my practice, my beliefs or my life. It's a one-way exchange and a mostly singular opinion.

I have never understood this insistence on proper structure in writing, mainly because doing so mostly produced what my father would call "a fog index of 500". In other words, getting wrapped up in big words and long sentences often communicates less effectively than a more casual direct statement. Proper grammar does not ensure effective communication. Speaking the same language as your audience does .

In the 15 years my firm has worked with Fortune 500 and 1000 clients, I have never once strayed from this rule. I write like I talk, period. And if I had a nickel for every time a client told me my honesty and directness was "refreshing", I'd be retired by now.

In terms of blogging, these bullshit rules and regulations make even less sense. A blog is a conversation, an open, honest two-way exchange. There are no rules for conversation -- nor should there be. If you really want to learn, if you really want to extract valuable lessons that can be applied to what yopu're doing, start talking to your peers. Don't look to magazines, don't look to designers of "status" for answers. Look to places like Speak Up that foster true communication.

The design elite still fail to understand that they are not broadcasting any more -- they think they are actually engaging in meaningful discourse, but their communication is one-sided and, in my opinion, exclusionary. We don't need or want to be told how to think, we don't need these people to tell us what is of value and what isn't. Instead, we need to talk to each other, dive deep and learn from the exchange. All the responses above have done just that for me, and I've only been awake for 30 minutes :-)

The point, finally: I've gained more valuable knowledge, inspiration and insight from Armin Vit and the folks who regularly post to Speak Up than I have from 10 years of reading the Poynors and Hellers of the world.

You have a mind. Think for yourself.

Speak Up, keep fighting the good fight.

Joe Natoli
Natoli Design Group

On May.18.2007 at 07:25 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

that the author has the option to anticipate an immediate discussion, which would impact the style of writing. Blog authors may use this to refine their theories and their writing.

This is an interesting point.

In this particular way, the blogging community is to the original author what a night club audience is to a comedian testing out new material. Many (most?) comedians test out their material in front of small venues before taking it before a broader audience. The feedback you get has some editing-like qualities to it, though it’s not a perfect comparison to an editor.

For instance, audience feedback does not have the factor of trust that a good writer/editor relationship has. (A good editor may understand what the writer is trying to achieve, and guide them appropriately with that in mind.) Nor is it a singular point of view, though -- depending on the venue -- it may have a singular-group point of view.

But the audience feedback does have an immediacy and honesty that is impossible to duplicate in any other way. And the phenomenon of “multiple-editors” attunes one to different points of view, different tastes, and different understanding levels in a very visceral way. Finally, the energy that is given back and forth in this manner can be exhilarating and it can be excruciating.

If the comparison is worth anything, this type of feedback may prove to be less useful in highly cerebral exchanges (where careful thought is necessary to absorb and consider points of an argument). But for matters that touch people’s passions, it has tremendous potential.

On May.18.2007 at 08:46 AM
tarpitizen’s comment is:

Just one question for Mr. Natoli: I'm confused, who are the"'design elite"? Could you get down and name some of them? (what else is a dishy site like Speak Up for?) pleeeeeeeze........? Are there lots of them, or are they an endangered species that we should just ignore til they disappear? Or are"they" not individuals, but just any print magazine, by definition?

On May.18.2007 at 12:41 PM
felix’s comment is:

c'mon Tarp,

He has a point and is entitled to rant.

Heres mine:
an anecdote on PRINT specifically: when they did their write up on me for the New Viual Artists of 2000 the barely 20 yrs old receptionist interviewed me... mistook Brian Collin's credentials for mine... then their AD turned logos upside down and when I asked the editor; "hey, why not show some of this new linear style I'm working on? what do you think?" they told me no they "already had someone who fit that bill" (Laura Ljunkgvist). Looking back it was a one way conversation. They basically tried to tell me who I was and they were dead wrong.

No, the PRINTs and CA and HOWs have never led popular opinion, but why link Heller with Poyner? Heller does the profession a huge service- he's progressive.

On May.18.2007 at 02:19 PM
tarpitizen’s comment is:

"lix, that's why I wanted names. I agree that the editing of Print and CA and How and all those are wanting, and they hire interns to write important stuff, but why is that? You pick up an art magazine and the articles are written by professors, (ok, elitists that Natoli might not like, but they at least pay their respects!) Meanwhile, except for a few names printed over and over, (including Heller who obviously would do it even if he had to pay them) little or no development of design writers for print ! Why is that? Were the magazines to cheap to hire real writers, or was the audience so undemanding? Maybe they only looked at the pictures? I guess I'm wondering why print is the endangered species, since I think that there are lots of people like me who read both. Or was Print magazine just too ugly? Until the last re-design it was hard to even look at. Same thing with the covers of How. Maybe that's what Poynor really should be looking at: why are the magazines dying, not the problems (and there are a few) at Speak Up

On May.18.2007 at 08:59 PM
felix’s comment is:


PRINT is much different (and better) animal after the redesign.

On May.18.2007 at 10:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I realize this is getting long, but one more thing to add. I am cleaning my computer this morning and was looking through a PDF of one of my presentations, and in it I came up with a few conclusions about what makes a good blog. Whether we fit all of these characteristics is up to you to decide.

A good blog:
– provokes, nags, asks
– leads to smarter questions
– can provide answers
– allows for discovery of new voices
– creates tension
– (tension is good)
– is not about the last word

On May.19.2007 at 11:47 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Odd, I feel like those items also apply to most classroom environments, Armin. (Or at least the classes that I teach.)

On May.22.2007 at 04:12 PM
pnk’s comment is:

Wow, Jason, that observation gave me an odd stab of recognition that I'm surprised I never had before. All the things that I loved and hated about the seminars at the liberal arts college I attended (The Evergreen State College, '90) are manifest here in blog-space.

Seminars were held in small classrooms where 10-20 people sat in a circle and discussed the topic du jour, and when it worked (that is, when it yielded the things described in Armin's post) it was terrifically interesting, engaging, entertaining, and inspirational. When it didn't it was equally as uncomfortable, boring, self-absorbed, and disheartening.

The value of a seminar can be dramatically altered by the attitudes and behaviors of its participants. Some folks love to crack wise, some love to suck up to the teachers (referred to more often as "facilitators"), some just loved to spew bullshit on any subject for the joy of hearing their own voice. Sometimes the facilitator had to swoop in and set people straight, sometimes he/she was the cause of the ruckus. But most often it worked well, because my classmates and I genuinely wanted it to. We had faith in the potential of the medium, if you will, so we tried to keep it on track collectively. I learned a lot in that environment, both about the subjects at hand and about "playing well" with others.

I have occasionally said that if you want to engage with folks one really good way to do it is to find ways to mirror positive formative experiences. Jason, I think you you have helped me to understand one of the reasons I keep coming back to this site again and again.

On May.24.2007 at 08:19 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

dang. what a strange read. methinks rick should start wearing boots from now on. wouldn't want to mess up his sneakers.

On May.31.2007 at 04:55 PM
Susan Kirkland’s comment is:

The biggest single problem with print journalists is their unwillingness to abandon strict traditionalism. I prefer to read a poorly written piece by a practioner than a superbly written
piece by someone who has read a lot and regurgitates the putrid mix peppered with opinion.

Students of all disciplines have an advantage in our cybertimes. They don't have to drive to the library or hope to pry trade secrets from mentors. They can frequent various blogs and other information sources online to extend their education. Those of us who believe in the free exchange of information and ideas thrive in the online environment.

Judging design blogs by traditional writing standards for a skill set that is visually acclimated seems silly. I think it falls under unreasonable expectation. The power is shifting; when this happens in any medium, some short-lived chaos should be expected. But no amount of argument by print journalists will stop the shift. And it is not exclusive to design.

I posted this at Print's forum, but traffic seems a bit low there.

Susan Kirkland
Blogging with other excellent design bloggers at: http://blogs.graphicdesignforum.com/skirkland

On Jun.02.2007 at 12:59 PM
Yael Miller’s comment is:

A riveting read... comments and all.

On Jun.07.2007 at 02:43 PM
danny’s comment is:

Rick Poynor is writing for Design Observer again? God I can't stand that guy.


On Dec.12.2007 at 04:59 PM