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:
- What are the barriers preventing the emergence of new critical voices?
- If we created a well-edited, international design journal, would there even be a business model that would support it?
- Are critical voices and new publishing models not emerging because we are all too distracted?
- 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.
we imagine that we engage directly with the “content” of the magazine, the tv commercial, the pasta sauce, or perfume, but the content is always mediated by design and it’s design that helps direct how we perceive it and how it makes us feel. the brand-meisters and marketing gurus understand this only too well. the product may be little different in real terms from its rivals. what seduces us is its “image.” this image reaches us first as a visual entity – shape, colour, picture, type. but if it’s to work its effect on us it must become an idea: NIKE! this is the tremendous power of design.
it’s been said, and i believe it’s true, that you “vote with your wallet.” if you want a trustworthy indicator of what a person values, find out what they spend their money on. it’s what worries me about culture. look at where we spend our money.
and it’s no wonder. look at how hard the ad agencies work, aided very heavily by graphic designers i’m sorry to say, to convince people that they are inadequate without product x,y or z. they know if they can arouse and sustain your fear of being “less than,” you’ll spend your money on said product because you value feeling good about yourself and have been led to believe that their product will make you feel so.
i want to issue a call to you, reader, to begin to vote against consumerism. and here let me say, that i do draw a distinction between consumerism and commerce. i’ll explain with a story. i have a sweater. it’s been a favorite sweater of mine for about 10 years now. sadly, the zipper was broken, there were holes in the elbows and the sleeve seam had come undone and pulled away from the shoulder. i took it to the taylor and the price for all of these fixes was $70. now you know that $70 dollars will buy me a pretty nice new sweater. but in a moment of clarity, i chose to have my old one repaired. with my wallet, i voted “no” to consumerism and to just throwing away something and buy a new something, and voted “yes” to respecting a great piece of clothing that had served me well, to valuing the skilled taylor in my neighborhood and to keeping the waste level down, even if by just one more piece of cloth.
i’m not criticizing the buying of new sweaters. there will probably come a day when that sweater is just disintegrated and i’ll have to buy another one if i don’t want to freeze my ass off (though i can buy a second hand one yes?). but when did we stop trying to fix things that are really useful except for maybe a couple of needed repairs? so in this example, i engaged in commerce in contracting with my neighborhood taylor to repair my sweater, but not in consumerism. this is the distinction that i make.
as pertains to designers, i think this distinction is relevant concerning the work in which we find ourselves engaged. the fact that we’ve chosen graphic designer as a career path demands that our work be commercial. but must it be consumeristic?
the online portfolio, as in that website where you upload all of the images of your design work, that’s dead. this is not to say that having your work accessible online is no long necessary. it absolutely is. but it’s not enough.
it’s very important not only to show your work, but to have a conversation as well. to show your thinking. it is the opinion of this designer, that a designer must articulate opinions and philosophies through written form as well as show imagery of executed projects. so, i advocate for the design feed, a rolling stream of written essays, opinion pieces and of course the work itself.
why? because people hire other people to work with them, not just pretty images. writing thoughtful essays about design, culture and my opinions and philosophies about the subjects shows what kind of person i am and what kind of thought process i have. this is very helpful for both the people looking to work with a designer with my particular mindset and for me as a designer that wants to work with a particular type of person or organization.
i hope that it helps to initiate a two-way conversation as well. my hope is that when people read what i’ve written, it will evoke a response and we can then engage in a human to human dialogue. who knows, we may even begin to understand one another better.
the portfolio is dead. long live the conversation.
Our over exposure to shocking and inappropriate stories in the media and online, makes it easy to become desensitized- so much so that their images rarely shock me anymore.
What I saw yesterday was an exception. I was outraged when I received an email from Endangered Bodies New York, a worldwide activist group of which Realize Your Beauty is part.
The email was a call to action for an app that has been recently released. A “Plastic Surgery App” recommended for ages 9 and up and targeted towards children.
Even as I write this now, I struggle to find the words to describe how abhorrent, inappropriate and outright dangerous this app is.
The title of the app is “Plastic Surgery & Plastic Doctor & Plastic Hospital Office for Barbie version”, it was available on iTunes.
The description of the app read (trigger warning): “This unfortunate girl has so much extra weight that no diet can help her. In our clinic she can go through a surgery called liposuction that will make her slim and beautiful. We’ll need to make small cuts on problem areas and suck out the extra fat. Will you operate her, doctor?”
The extreme nature of this app made it clear that action was required immediately. As activist all around the world banded together to spread news of this “game” for children- word began to spread. There were emails sent around formulating a plan of action. People volunteered to start petitions, we all took to twitter and email and bombarded iTunes with messages voicing our concern- demanding the app be removed from the site.
As the day drew to a close, we had word that iTunes had indeed removed the app, and it was no longer searchable or downloadable from their site.
When you work in a field that requires activism, every day there is a ‘call to action’ to be made. Some post or some media story that we are called to stand up against or spread the word about. If you’re lucky, you slowly see changes being made. However, some days it can feel like an uphill battle.
Yesterday however, something very inspiring took place. Rarely have I felt a more united front and had more tangible proof that our voices are making a difference.
We are fighting for a world where children grow up learning to love and respect themselves and their bodies. More than this: a world where we all love and respect our bodies. I went to bed last night with renewed sense of hope- that we are not fighting a losing battle. That the work we are doing can indeed make a difference. Change can happen.
I woke up this morning to find that this was not one app, as we had understood yesterday, but it seems a series of apps. It appears as of the time I’m writing this blog that one final plastic surgery ‘game’ aimed at children remains for download in the Apple store.
And so we begin again- and I have full confidence that we will be successful in having this dangerous app removed. Change is possible.
- Stacey Lorin Merkl
Founder & Executive Director
Realize Your Beauty, Inc.
UPDATE. this app has been removed! good job everyone. let’s keep these kinds of initiatives rolling.
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