so, you all really REALLY need to go check out james benard’s inventions. they are something. below is my favorite, the ice urinal. yeah.
other inventions include peel-able hospital walls, a velcro head band to hold children’s heads in place when they fall asleep in the car and ear trumpets.
the refrain goes something like this, “i know the client/service/product isn’t very good, but at least i got to do good design for it, right?” wrong.
good design is, well, good. and that’s what makes it all the more harmful when it’s applied to a harmful product/service. i’ve heard this line of thinking applied to unhealthy foods, culture crushing mega-retailers, deceptively marketed cosmetic products, lower-income family fleecing lottery games and more. all good design applied to harmful products/services does is make the deception that much more convincing. how is that virtuous?
i’m not saying don’t do design for fast food per se, but don’t make it look like something that it isn’t. mcdonald’s isn’t just saying “buy hamburgers a couple times a year” with their ads. they are very much selling a lifestyle. cool people, sitting around the table, laughing, having a good time, maybe even eating a salad, when in reality a lifestyle of mickey d’s will probably lead to obesity and acne.
one of the the new york lottery’s most recent ad campaigns had the slogan “yeah, that kind of rich.” how many people that play the ny lotto become “that kind of rich?” well, the odds are 195,200,000 says bookofodds.com which adds, “to put it in perspective, the odds are better that a randomly chosen american male happens to be george clooney.” becoming “that kind of rich” is furthest thing from what you should actually expect when you play the lotto.
still, maybe it seems super-benign to use good graphic design for the lotto, so let me blow this way out of proportion. imagine you’re at the latest AIGA event talking to this hip young designer who says to you, “yeah, i know it’s the nazi party, but man, they’re giving me such creative control and i’m gonna use what they’re paying me to fund my projects that really matter…”
previously i’ve written, albeit briefly, that graphic design is a language. and with graphic design, as with any other language, we can tell a beautiful (or ugly) truth, or we can tell a beautiful (or ugly) lie. (and perhaps someone would interject at this point about truth mixed with lies to which i respond, if it’s not the whole truth, it’s not the truth.)
so designer, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be a beautiful truth-teller.
if an amateur activist with a felt-tip pen, a pot of paste and the most rudimentary graphic skills can make you pause, what might a more professionally conceived form of graphic activism accomplish?
sometime ago i wrote a few essays on beauty and posted them on what was, at the time, my website. that site is defunct now, but i do think there is some worth to these writings, so i’ll post them here. following is the first;
based on general observances, our culture mostly seeks to avoid sorrow and grief at all costs. there are exceptions of course, but this to me seems to be the rule. everyone wants to be happy, naturally, but happiness cannot be achieved by heaping product after comfort-creating product into our lives. the absence of pain is not equal to happiness experienced. detached passivity from people and our communities in an effort not to be hurt by others will not afford happiness either.
the possibility of exultant happiness and enduring joy must be accompanied by the risk and really, inevitable presence of pain. the pain of the failure of a passionate pursuit. or the pain of loss of or absence of someone whom you have loved deeply. a detached passivity from one’s loved ones is boring and selfish really. it says, i don’t want to hurt, so i will not feel passion for another. there are some people that you will be around that you will believe that you are a better person from being around them. and in moments when you can’t be around them, you will feel a profound sense of loss. do it. feel it. let it wash over you like a wave of the ocean. believe you are better with them. believe it and let it make you sad when you are not with them.
become vulnerable. put yourself in a position to feel terrible pain, so that you may know the unspeakable joy of a profound and unspeakable love. in feeling the absence of your beloved you will love their presence more.
our delight in the warmth and renewal of spring is heightened by having experienced winter. we know and understand light because we see it set against darkness and shadows. so we will relish true happiness by allowing ourselves to experience pain and sorrow.
almost just like english, spanish, italian, chinese, arabic or sanskrit. it’s a way to organize forms in order to communicate a message, and, as such, graphic design is (or should be) more often than not the medium or vehicle, and not the end in itself.
recently a friend confessed to me that he was kinda tired of graphic design. it had gotten old to him. and i get what he means. he was tired of graphic design about graphic design. it seems to me that graphic design as an industry has a tendency to be self-referencing more than most industries, except for the art scene. if we think of design as a language and compare that to the english language, it would be like using english only to talk about the english language, or to put it another way, perpetual grammar class. that does get boring, fast.
but, and this may seem obvious, think of all the other things that we can use english to communicate. we can use it to communicate about… that’s right, anything. so it is with design. you can use it as a language to communicate whatever you want. yes, the better you know the language the more skilled you will be at communicating with it. so you have to think about it directly for a while before you can let it be a passive vehicle for another message.
but, if you’re bored with graphic design, find a message about which you are passionate. use graphic design to communicate that message. i believe you’ll find your sense of excitement and purpose renewed.
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