Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How Good is Good?

Stefan Sagmeister

Originalmente publicado em

In September design felt impotent and frivolous. There is nothing inherent in our profession that forces us to support worthy causes, to promote good things, to avoid visual pollution. There might be such a responsibility in us as people. In August, when thinking about my reasons for being alive, for getting out of bed in the morning, I would have written the following down.

1. Strive for happiness
2. Don’t hurt anybody
3. Help, others achieve the same

Now I would change that priority:

1. Help others
2. Don’t hurt anybody
3. Strive for happiness

My studio was engaged in cool projects, things designers like to do, like designing a cover for David Byrne

We had a good time designing them, and since the products and events these pieces promoted were fine, I don’t think we hurt anybody who bought them.

One of the many things I learned in my year without clients, a year I had put aside for experiments only, was that I’d like a part of my studio to move from creating cool things to significant things.

The 80s in graphic design were dominated by questions about the layout, by life style magazines, with Neville Brody’s Face seen as the big event. The 90s were dominated by questions about typography, readability, layering, with David Carson emerging as the dominant figure.

With prominent figures like Peter Saville recently talking about the crisis of the unnecessary and lamenting about the fact that our contemporary culture is monthly, there might now finally be room for content, for questions about what we do and for whom we are doing it. The incredible impact the First Things First manifesto had on my profession would certainly point in that direction.

The first sentence on page 1 of Victor Papanek’s “Design for the Real World” reads: “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only very few of them. And possibly only one profession is phonier: Advertising design. In persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others that don’t care, it is probably the phoniest field in existence today.”

I do know that bad design can harm our lives. From the problems this little piece of bad typography caused in Florida to unnecessary junk mail and overproduced packaging, bad design makes the world a more difficult place to live in.

At the same time, strong design for bad causes or products can hurt us even more.

Good design + bad cause = bad

Russian designer Andrey Logvin simple poster called Troika speaks for itself.

Winter Sorbeck, design teacher and fictional main character in Chip Kidd’s new novel The Cheese Monkeys, says at one point: Uncle Sam is Commercial Art, the American Flag is graphic design. Commercial Art makes you BUY things, graphic Design GIVES you ideas.

If I’m able to do that, to give ideas, that WOULD be a good reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Presented at the AIGA National Conference in Washington on March 23, 2002, reprinted in I.D. Magazine April/May 2002

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