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robertogreco : selling   4

DE$IGN | Soulellis
"I’ve been thinking a lot about value and values.

Design Humility and Counterpractice were first attempts to build a conversation around the value of design and our values as designers. They’re highly personal accounts where I try to articulate my own struggle with the dominant paradigm in design culture today, which I characterize as —

speed
the relentlessness of branding
the spirit of the sell
the focus on product
the focus on perfection

and they include some techniques of resistance that I’ve explored in my recent work, like —

thingness
longevity
slowness (patience)
chance (nature, humility, serendipity)
giving away (generosity echo)

I’ve been calling them techniques, but they’re really more like values, available to any designer or artist. Work produced with these criteria runs cross-grain to the belief that we must produce instantly, broadcast widely and perform perfectly.

Hence, counterpractice. Cross-grain to common assumptions. Questioning.

And as I consider my options (what to do next), I’m seriously contemplating going back to this counterpractice talk as a place to reboot. Could these be seen as principles — as a platform for a new kind of design studio?

I’m not sure. Counterpractice probably need further translation. An idea like ”slowness” certainly won’t resonate for many, outside of an art context. And how does a love for print-on-demand and the web fit in here? Perhaps it’s more about “variable speed” and the “balanced interface” rather than slow vs fast. Slow and fast. Modulated experience. The beauty of a printed book is that it can be scanned quickly or savored forever. These aren’t accidental qualities; they’re built into the design.

[image by John Maeda: "DE$IGN"]

I’m thinking about all of this right now as I re-launch Soulellis Studio as Counterpractice. But if there’s anything that most characterizes my reluctance to get back to client-based work, it’s DE$IGN.

John Maeda, who departed RISD in December, where I am currently teaching, recently delivered a 4-minute TED talk, where he made this statement:

“From Design to DE$IGN.”

He expands that statement with a visual wordmark that is itself designed. What does it mean? I haven’t seen the talk yet so I can only presume, out of context. These articles and Maeda’s blog post at Design and Venture begin to get at it.

Maeda’s three principles for using design in business as stated in the WSJ article are fine. But they don’t need a logo. Designing DE$IGN is a misleading gesture; it’s token branding to sell an idea (in four minutes—the fast read). So what’s the idea behind this visual equation? As a logo, it says so many things:

All caps: DE$IGN is BIG.
It’s not £ or ¥ or 元: DE$IGN is American.
Dollar sign: DE$IGN is money.

DE$IGN is Big American Money.

and in the context of a four-minute TED talk…

DE$IGN is speed (four minutes!)
DE$IGN is the spirit of selling (selling an idea on a stage to a TED audience)
DE$IGN is Helvetica Neue Ultra Light and a soft gradient (Apple)
DE$IGN is a neatly resolved and sellable word-idea. It’s a branded product (and it’s perfect).

In other words, DE$IGN is Silicon Valley. DE$IGN is the perfect embodiment of start-up culture and the ultimate tech dream. Of course it is — this is Maeda’s audience, and it’s his new position. It works within the closed-off reality of $2 billion acquisitions, IPOs, 600-person design teams and Next Big Thing thinking. It’s a crass, aggressive statement that resonates perfectly for its audience.

[Image of stenciled "CAPITALISM IS THE CRI$IS"]

DE$IGN makes me uneasy. The post-OWS dollar sign is loaded with negative associations. It’s a quick trick that borrows from the speed-read language of texting (lol) to turn design into something unsustainable, inward-looking and out-of-touch. But what bothers me most is that it comes from one of our design leaders, someone I follow and respect. Am I missing something?

I can’t help but think of Milton Glaser’s 1977 I<3NY logo here.

[Milton Glaser I<3NY]

Glaser uses a similar trick, but to different effect. By inserting a heart symbol into a plain typographic treatment, he too transformed something ordinary (referencing the typewriter) into a strong visual message. Glaser’s logo says that “heart is at the center of NYC” (and it suggests that love and soul and passion are there too). Or “my love for NYC is authentic” (it comes from the heart). It gives us permission to play with all kinds of associations and visual translations: my heart is in NYC, I am NYC, NYC is the heart of America, the heart of the world, etc. .

Glaser’s mark is old-school, east coast and expansive; it symbolizes ideas and feelings that can be characterized as full and overflowing. And human (the heart). It’s personal (“I”), but all about business: his client was a bankrupt city in crisis, eager to attract tourists against all odds.

Maeda’s mark is new money, west coast and exclusive. It was created for and presented to a small club of privileged innovators who are focused on creating new ways to generate wealth ($) by selling more product.

Clever design tricks aside, here’s my question, which I seem to have been asking for a few years now. Is design humility possible today? Can we build a relevant design practice that produces meaningful, rich work — in a business context — without playing to visions of excess?

I honestly don’t know. I’m grappling with this. I’m not naive and I don’t want to paint myself into a corner. I’d like to think that there’s room to resist DE$IGN. I do this as an artist making books and as an experimental publisher (even Library of the Printed Web is a kind of resistance). But what kind of design practice comes out of this? Certainly one that’s different from the kind of business I built with Soulellis Studio."
paulsoulellis  2014  conterpractice  design  humility  capitalism  resistance  branding  speed  slow  consumerism  sales  salesmanship  perfection  wabi-sabi  thingness  longevity  slowness  patience  nature  chance  serendipity  generosity  potlatch  johnmaeda  questioning  process  approach  philosophy  art  print  balance  thisandthat  modulation  selling  ted  tedtalks  apple  siliconvalley  startups  culture  technology  technosolutionsism  crisis  miltonglaser  1977  love 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Portland/CreativeMornings - William Deresiewicz on Vimeo
"Entrepreneurialsm isn't necessarily bad, but I'm just struck by the fact that it seems to be *the* ideal. … the exclusive ideal. … This is far from only true of only young people… the small business ["that also includes nonprofits"] has become the idealized social form or life expression of our time, in general."

"If you think back a century ago to the heyday of high modernism and aestheticism, art for art's sake, the artist as… the culture hero… All of the attributes that were attached to being an artist or to making art then are … attached to entrepreneurialism now… like autonomy, freedom, heroism, imagination, creativity, adventure."

"The affect that we all have now is the salesman's personality. It's the smile and shoeshine. It's "the customer is always right." It's "I'm not going to offend anybody beacuse I don't know whether I'm going to want to sell them something or do business with them. I don't know when I'm going to run into them down the road." And even if we're not literally sellling something, although more and more of us are because of social media, because we are on social media, we are — all of us — at least selling one thing, which is ourselves. The contemporary self is an entrepreneurial self, a self that is packaged to be sold."

"Young people today think in terms of fixing the world by making things and selling them."

"I'm going to suggest to you that selling is inherently corrupting… Selling corrupts the product it sells… Selling as counter culture, as dissent, as revolution… is a contradiction in terms."

"What we have is a loss of the avant-garde. And I'm defining avant-garde not in terms of experimentation, for example, but specifically art that offers resistence to its audience, art that is not easily consumable. And not just art… we don't really have an avant-garde of thought either. Because if you make people uncomfortable, which is what avant-garde art and thought has to do, than they're not going to buy — in either sense — what you're selling them, so we tone it down, we sort of tart it up, we put in a dance beat, we stay within acceptable moral and aesthetic limits. Maybe we try to surprise a little bit, but we surpise in a way that we know is not going to be disturbing."

"We are always presenting something that is in some way familiar to the audience because we know it has already sold, it has a track record."

"Let us not confuse imagination with innovation and even progress." —P.J. O'Rourke

"We have disgarded creativity in exchange for a steady supply of marketable products." —Gary Kasparov

"Everything is being created for the consumer market."

"The avant-garde has been coopted by commerce. The notion of creativity has become indentified with the idea of technology and technology has been identified with products. Instead of being mobilized as citizens the way the avant-garde wanted to, we are being marketed to as consumers."

"We are not doing what the avant-garde is supposed to do, which is to challenge the basic social, political, and economic stucture of our world, reimagine and reinvent our social relationships."

[From the @FranzKafka article, but similar to the talk.] "[W]hat about creators who don’t want to have to sell themselves, who don’t like it, who aren’t good at it, who feel it saps their energy? (Beethoven’s website? Van Gogh’s Facebook page? Kafka’s Twitter feed?) There’s something to be said for agents and managers and publishers and record labels, despite their drain upon the artist’s purse and the artist’s patience—people who are good at things that creators usually aren’t and don’t want to have to be. And then, what about creators who are good at them—but not at, you know, creating? The more that selling becomes central to the process, the more the process will reward people who are good at selling."

"Our ideal [the small business] is just a thing, it's not really an ideal."

"The Generation Y style really doesn't embody anything. What does hipster style say? It just says that I'm hip."

"The ethos of DIY social engagement goes along also with a withdrawal from politics, which is inherently a sphere of two things that Millenials say they hate (and not just Millenials) conflict and large institutions."

"The idea of creative social change is that what starts at the edges will go to the center. But unless we engage politics directly, what starts at the edges will stay at the edges."

"Against the immense power of coordinated wealth, … the small business model does not amount to very much. I don't think you can change the system either by just working within it or, another response, dropping out of it. I think you can only change it by confronting it directly."
morality  ideals  ideology  art  thought  thinking  cv  millennials  entrepreneurship  smallbusiness  commerce  sellingout  selling  2012  avant-garde  society  change  gamchanging  scale  salesmanship  williamderesiewicz 
july 2012 by robertogreco

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