Friday, January 8, 2010

3:05 p.m.

Lately I have been reading Michael Beirut's 79 Short Essays on Design. As of the 63rd essay, I feel that I've gotten more insight and motivation to do something positive and productive with design than I had ever experienced whilst earning my "design" degree.

Beirut's essay on the beauty and elegance that is McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #13 is a minor confirmation that I am slightly "with it" when it comes to design in a cooly-cool social context. After discovering I had unintentionally accumulated a small but pretty neat Chris Ware collection of books, #13 was the first McSweeney's Quarterly I purchased. The ornate, foil-embellished cover that opens out to a poster-sized comic of it's own is just the beginning of a journey through all things comic, with essays by Chip Kidd and plethora of illustrators.

In a different essay (and scattered through others), Beirut writes about the importance of recognizing the partnership between a designer and client. One does not work for the other, and neither party can work without the other. Beirut (and other designers) suggests that certain clients might be predisposed to recognizing good design over others. For designers, they are always the coveted few. I have been lucky to work with a few design-oriented clients, and the process has consistently felt more collaborative, productive, and for the most part, I think the final project is more successful. Unfortunately, many of us have nightmare clients too. They pay the bills, and it is difficult to develop the same kind of "partnership." Many times, the designer compromises on ideas because it's just not worth it to fight the issue. Or, a designer is burnt out because a client just doesn't know what he or she wants. No matter the case, Beirut says that perhaps we should do a little less complaining about how terrible the work is, and instead find a way to make things work — for both of us. Easier said than done, of course. Some people just don't change, but I think the idea is still worth trying. And if it makes the experience better for everyone, the project will improve too.

I recently started to watch (and then fell asleep — but not out of boredom!) 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the half hour that I've seen so far, all I could think about was how ahead of its time the movie is. Small, unobtrusive televisions are embedded in the seat backs of a spaceship, and they look even better than the screens we use on airplanes today. Bright, pink Djinn chairs scatter an understated lobby with modern color. Beirut noticed all of this too, and he says we can learn a thing or two about timeless (but distinct) design from the director. Additionally, a theme throughout 79 Essays is the fact that good designers expose themselves to not only different types of design, but also art, literature, industry and social issues. Making connections between the arts and design or social issues and design is a way we can begin to bridge the gap between that Client-Designer Partnership. Drawing connections between design and the everyday is also a way to educate the public (and ourselves!) on "good" design.

I've got about 10 more essays to go, but I can tell you that 79 essays is about being a smart designer by reading, learning and writing about as much as possible. By treating our job like visual journalism, we have the opportunity to develop a vast amount of knowledge on the issues we convey graphically. From ballpoint pens, to bullshitting, to Kundera and Nabokov, I guess it's time to start soaking things up.

Drop cap by Jessica Hische, Daily Drop Cap

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