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That’s Not Really [INSERT ART FORM HERE]

By Noah Brier and Charles Gallant

Rock and roll is not music. How could it be? You’ve got a bunch of kids with shaggy hair playing instruments with no real musical knowledge. They don’t even know scales! Hell, most of them probably can’t read music! They’re making noise, not music.

Or so the story goes.

Now let’s try it from the design perspective:

The consequence of your design democracy is an ugly spectacle of deep purples and electric organges. It’s a culture of me-me-me: my hideously personalized car, my hideously personalized sofa, my hideously personalized house. If we care about maintaining an aesthetic of public space, design should be left to professionals. Let people pour their uniqueness inwardly — but don’t let them clutter up the physical world.

That’s straight out of Fast Company.

Pardon my French, but it all sounds like a bunch of elitist bullshit. Today everyone’s got access to the tools that before only a select few could play with. Anyone can be a designer, a musician or an astronaut.

That scares and angers professionals.

Think about it. How would you feel if you went through four years of intense musical training and the people getting the fame and money spent all that time smoking pot and drinking Jack Daniels.

There’s never been a time in history when it was easier to just hack something together. (I think that’s paraphrasing something Henry Jenkins said.) Calling design ‘bad’ or music ‘crappy’ is a subjective judgement. ‘Bad’ design can be good. Just look at the filmmakers behind lonelygirl15: When it was time to build a Myspace page for their faux-15-year-old they intentionally gave it a ‘Myspace’ look. They knew their context and built something that could really have been produced by a 15-year-old girl in her bedroom.

The design represents the content. It presents the content. It is the content. If I’m a 9-year-old with a ‘crappy’ website, my design will probably scream “A 9-year-Old made this!!!” What those pompous musicians/designers need to get over is that some people are actually looking for a 9-year-old’s content. They’d prefer a universe where people wanted things that looked pretty, but sometimes people just want something that ‘is what it is.’ Something accessible. Something that’s all there on the table. Easy to swallow.

Design is a communication tool. Getting your point across should always be the ultimate goal. Sure I can make comments on the how much something adheres to traditional design rules. But at the end of the day it sure sounds like a bunch of classically trained musicians with their tux stuck up their ass complaining about the kids and their rock and roll.

October 6, 2006


  • Michael Surtees says:

    I suppose it depends if you see design as a noun or a verb.

  • Noah Brier says:

    Can you expand?

  • candice says:

    With design, and art in particular, real talent shows in any case, professionalism or not.

    I’m hopeless when it comes to having the patience to design anything. The art, it’s not there for me. My younger sister is one of those people who is just stunningly good. Obviously. Still lifes that look like photographs, expertly placed everything, and it’s effortless. She went to art school and her professors don’t even know what to criticize her on.

    “Professional” often just means trained. I’ve been a semi-professional dancer (university company), but that doesn’t mean I was really good, I had just learned and practiced. (For reference, I’m about as good as the white chick in the hiphop video. You know the one.)

    (please pardon the alcohol in my voice.)

  • jeff says:

    Chuck Gallant is an awesome name.

  • Charles says:

    Thanks Jeff, “Chuck” is my guitar playin’ name.

  • Piers Fawkes says:

    there’s a punk revolution going on: yep, lots of crap gets produced by ordinary folk – but so do a few gems that would never have been created.

  • Michael Surtees says:

    I think the first mistake of this post was quoting from Fast Company and then placing the obligatory link to Photoshop didn’t help things. The design issue that always bothers me is the confusion between surface treatment and the intent for action. Until people realize that design has more to do with questioning things, asking the right questions, deciding the goals etc, (i.e. a process), and then executing on those conclusions – there will be an endless debate on what design is.

  • Noah Brier says:

    Michael, first off, great comment. I’ve got some thoughts, but I just wanted to thank you for a really thoughtful reply.

    Not sure what the problem with quoting Fast Company was, unfortunately I didn’t have the issue in front of me, but I was actually quoting a designer from the little discussion section on the back page.

    The link to photoshop was only to say that the tools that were once available to only professionals are now available to the more general public.

    I couldn’t agree with you more that design has more to with questioning things and deciding goals and you’re right, that wasn’t discussed here. No excuses, just a mistake.

    With that said, I don’t think that design is something only professionals can take part in. We are all designers, thinking about problems and crafting optimal solutions, whether it be a newspaper over our heads in the rain or using a book as a coaster on our coffee table.

    I subscribe to the belief that access makes people ask more questions. I think the internet will eventually make people more questioning of all the information they encounter and I think access to tools like Photoshop will eventually lead people down a road of trying to understand what’s going on beneath the surface.

  • Michael Surtees says:

    No worries Noah –

    To the point of Fast Company (and probably a lot of other mags out there), editorially it seems that when design is discussed it has to do with either A. product design, B. branding or C. the celebrity mystique artist as designer. That’s fine but doesn’t go much further about design sans consumption.

    Then there’s the professionally trained designer vs. the untrained self appointed. While I do feel strongly that a designer should be trained in school, if you look at innovation within the field – probably most have come from those that didn’t know the rules that they broke in the first place. So, my argument could be shot down pretty quickly. However if I could add one more addition to having a strong formal education in design – if you look at a good “designâ€? there’s a pretty good concept, good typography skills and great execution. The tell-tale sign of a self-appointed usually appears in their typography understanding – but I digress.

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