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The Message Is The Message; Or, Enforcing Subjective Aesthetics Through Ridicule Since 2007

Design Police Are Operating In This Area -- And They've Got Crappy Design Sense, Too

Why does anybody still think that ridicule is a useful tool for achieving positive ends? And why is anyone still willing to accept the idea that people who claim to use ridicule for positive ends are doing anything other than bullying people to make themselves feel superior?

Design is a religion. Let's just be clear about that. It has so many of the salient characteristics of religion that I find it difficult to understand why people become so offended at the notion that what they're preaching is not objective truth, it's faith. After all, they've expended a great deal of effort, karma and usually money to get their design credentials, and then they have to live in a world that Doesn't Take Design Seriously. (Much like the world doesn't Love Poetry. But that's another subject for another time.)

I feel for them, but I can't quite reach them, as my dad used to say. Here's a hint: Preachers go to grad school, too. There's a difference between VoTech and science, and unless you're formulating and falsifying hypotheses, design students, you're basically in a jumped-up VoTech program. Just like preachers.

Design fascists like the Design Police start very quickly to sound like folks who see oppression of Christians in all aspects of American daily life. What they're really seeing is that their particular religious biases are not honored by everyone who doesn't share them. Designers see stuff they don't like and confuse that with "bad design" in much the same way that extreme religioninsts see attitudes and behaviors they don't like and confuse it with immorality.

Truly hard-core design fetishists have a wonderful and seemingly limitless capacity for arrogance. They can say stuff like "Comic Sans is Evil", can insist that proper kerning and ligature are crucial to truly understanding the meaning of a text, and basically imply that the rest of the world is populated with design-illiterate idiots who are destroying civilization through sloth and ignorance, all with a straight face and all without realizing that they're basically the design-equivalent of Anne Coulter: endlessly blathering that people who don't "get" them just have no sense of humor. (And bad taste, of course, to boot. Because Helvetica on pink bubblegum is the height of design, doncha know. Wait, I forgot: Intention is what matters; they meant it to be ugly, it's a statement....)

Take the Design Police ("Bring bad design to justice"). (Please take them.) They're a couple of design students (ah, they're still in DESIGN SCHOOL, that goes a long way toward explaining their sophomoric arrogance) I got a link to this lovely little bit of high-concept hideousness ("it's ugly on purpose! that makes it clever!") from a designer in my company. She's easily offended and basically a nice person, not given to deep thought about the fact that her attitude basically implies that everyone else is an idiot, so I refrained from pointing out to her that this is actually pretty fucking offensive elitist bullshit. She works in advertising. She doesn't realize or doesn't accept that design is not as important as designers like to think it is, and why should she? Why would she? It would have a negative impact on her ability to do her work. Heaven forbid someone should point out that the high-concept design choice may not communicate as effectively as a simpler, more message-oriented choice.

Many designers seem to have been drilled in the facile mantra that "medium is message", without any real analysis of what that means. So they take a basically insightful concept like Emotional Design and turn it into a justification for the simple subordination of understanding to gut feeling. Most designers are what the President would call "libruhls", but the attitude is the same as his: The gut is king, the emotions rule over all, what I feel is much more important than anything you or I might know, and that's as it should be. That's not, of course, what Don Norman was arguing when he wrote Turn Signals Are The Facial Expressions Of Automobiles, and it's not what guys like Tognazzini profess to mean when they use the term "emotional design." But I've worked and interacted with a lot of designers, and it seems pretty clear to me that in the current design zeitgeist -- at least on the web -- emotional design means "to look good is much more important than to be good." That appearance becomes its own reality. A very neo-conservative attitude.

I've got no illusions about changing the viewpoint of designers any more than I have about changing the viewpoints of militant religioninsts or militant atheists. They'll believe what they believe. I would really just prefer that they stop wasting my attention and lots of people's energy and money with their bullying (pomo) blather about the importance of clearly marginal crap like the "unimaginative" choice of Helvetica.

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