Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design by Michael Bierut

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design by Michael Bierut

Author:Michael Bierut
Language: eng
Format: mobi, epub
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
Published: 2007-03-25T16:00:00+00:00

In two footnotes, Bell has neatly nailed the choice that many designers feel they face. They can choose to become the passive, “objective” voice of their clients, or they can be creative fountainheads, beholden to no one but their own imaginations. These two types of designers are widely viewed as polar opposites and mutually antagonistic: the Aesthetes sneer at the Agents for selling out to big business; the Agents dismiss the Aesthetes for their self-indulgent immaturity.

This divide has been observed and debated for years, if not decades. But Bell’s skill is the way he slyly delineates not the differences but the similarities. In his account, both types of designers are willfully apolitical and, tellingly, uninterested in the content of the work they undertake. In short, a pox on both your houses. Designers (and perhaps all of us) resist binary classifications. Yet surely we would all have to concede that Bell’s group portrait as diptych has more than a little truth in it.

But the choice is a false choice. Bell has a prescription: “It’s quite simple, it’s been said before and so many times that it has become a cliché. And that is to design from the inside outwards.” He is talking specifically about designing for cultural institutions, but the advice is universal. “The practice of corporate identity design”—and here I would add graphic design in general—“must be inextricably tied to the content it is supposedly serving; make content the issue and resist making design the issue.”

I have never met a designer who would deny the importance of content. Yet “making content the issue” takes real humility and self-effacement, qualities that are sometimes in short supply in the ego-driven world of creative production. Designers are more often tempted to serve more urgently demanding gods: their clients on one hand, their inner muses on the other. What the world demands, however, is something more. Call it content, call it substance, call it meaning: it is the too-often-forgotten heart of what we do. It is the way out of the binary world that Nick Bell describes so well. It is the third choice. Choose content.


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