if you saw my previous post, you’ll know that i did a little public art campaign. the reasons one might engage in such activity are numerous. personally, i find painting type enjoyable, i wanted to send positive messages to my community, and honestly i just wanted to see what would happen if i did such a thing.

but there is one more reason, one which i would like to discuss in depth. i did the campaign because i want to spark a discussion/conversation about the rightness/wrongness healthiness/detriment of the visuals we encounter in the public arena.

in any american city of substantial size you will doubtless encounter a barrage of visual messages, i would venture a guess that the vast majority of it (upwards of 90%?) is advertising. other things would be graffiti, guerrilla art, yard sale or stoop sale signs etc.

i don’t know what the legal situation is in other cities, but in new york, it seems that the official advertising outlets are the only legal forms of visual communication in the public space. sections §10-119,  §10-121(a-e, g) of nyc’s department of sanitation rules and regulations read as follows:

It is illegal for any person to paste, post, paint, print, nail or attach or affix by any means whatsoever any handbill, poster, notice, sign, advertisement, sticker or other printed material upon any curb, gutter, flagstone, tree, lamppost, awning post, telegraph pole, telephone pole, public utility pole, public garbage bin, bus shelter, bridge, elevated train structure, highway fence, barrel, box, parking meter, mailbox, traffic control device, traffic stanchion, traffic sign (including pole), tree box, tree pit protection device, bench, traffic barrier, hydrant or other similar public item on any street. There is a rebuttable presumption that the person whose name, telephone number, or other identifying information appears on any handbill, poster, notice, sign, advertisement, sticker, or other printed material on any item or structure is in violation. Every handbill, poster, notice, sign, advertisement, sticker or other printed material shall be deemed a separate violation. Anyone found to have violated this provision, in addition to any penalty imposed, shall also be responsible for the cost of the removal of the unauthorized postings.

FINE: $75-$200 - 1st Offense. $150-$300 - 2nd & Subsequent Offense

my typographic painting campaign is illegal, but it is here that i will state the big idea of this post. legal ≠ right, and illegal ≠ wrong. deeper than right or wrong, is the idea of healthy or unhealthy. an illegal hand-painted sign that encourages the viewer to “keep it special” is healthier than a legal advertisement that encourages me to eat a snickers bar to quell my hunger pangs (wtfuck?).

besides all of this, limiting the public visual discourse to paid advertising outlets creates a space in which the only way to communicate publicly visually is pay-to-play, effectively making the public visual discourse exclusive to people or organization with more money. the more money you have, the more of a voice you have in the public visual arena. is this the kind of value system we want to encourage in our communities?

being the generally anti-establishment type that i am, i don’t recommend that we use public funds to allow people without money to have a voice, but i just recommend that people without money just paint some signs up and post them (and maybe try not to get caught). just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean it’s not right.


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i’d like to venture an answer to the following post from chappellellison, specifically question #2:

I had the great fortune of sitting down with design writer Rick Poynor for a one-on-one discussion about the current state of design writing. We both have passionate opinions on the topic, so we covered vast territory in our one-hour talk. We agreed upon the following:

Critical design writing is in a lull. This lull, however, is part of the cyclical nature of design discourse; there have been lulls in the past and there will be lulls in the future. The goal right now is to envision a way out of this current lull.

We also left with these unanswered questions:

  1. What are the barriers preventing the emergence of new critical voices?
  2. If we created a well-edited, international design journal, would there even be a business model that would support it?
  3. Are critical voices and new publishing models not emerging because we are all too distracted?
  4. Are American designers and design writers stuck in a perpetual loop of positive affirmation, where “likes” are rewarded and criticism is shunned?

Rick and I both agreed that the problem isn’t that there is less critical design writing today, but that it is harder to find, buried under heaps of fluffy “soft” design writing.

I’m convinced that there is an optimistic future for publishing in general, and I want design writing to be at the forefront of this inquiry. But what is the next step?

as for my answer, here goes: 

maybe there would be a business model that supported it, though i doubt it. but i think more important than the creation of a well-edited design journal is that designers themselves actively articulate design criticism “for free,” as it were. as just a part of the regular practice of what it is to be a designer. this is what i strive to do here on this site. i think this is what steven heller attempts to do over at print mag. i also think modes of criticism is making a good effort.

in short, i think encouraging designers (and design writers) to write their own criticism and publish it on their outlets, or outlets like medium.com will be a very fruitful way of overcoming any lull that may beset design discourse. ultimately the more skilled and convincing writers will become the more prominent ones as well, and in this i think we will find a rich and dynamic design criticism community.

actually, i’d like to answer question #1 a little as well. the single largest barrier preventing the emergence of new critical voices is money. the people with the most money that are able to pay the most to designers tend to be people trying to advertise one useless product or another, which is a major critical theme in my writings. if you alienate these people, how will you make a living? for my part, i’ve decided i don’t care what they think of me. the use of design to exploit and manipulate the masses must be challenged, so i do my best to that end. but i do wonder if maybe a few people may shun me for it. oh well.


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if we spend our time regretting our failures, then our failures become our masters, ruling and destroying us. but if we can live with a mindset to simply learn from our failures, looking at them objectively and asking “what went wrong” and “what’s the solution,” then they become useful tools, and in this are redeemed. dear reader, how did you fail this week, and what did you learn, or how can you learn from it? i want to hear from you!
for my part, i hated my fellow man on the nyc subway. instead of seeing people, i saw obstacles and nuisances.
what i learned from it is, a: i realize i’m just as flawed as all of them and b: if i see people as people, with hurts and needs and lonely hearts, my compassion rises and my hatred shrinks, and that’s the kind of person i want to be.


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