Computer Arts - Opinion - 99% of Design is Crap
Computer Arts
June 2008

99% of Design is Crap

Ask yourself this question - What was the last truly excellent piece of graphic design that you’ve seen recently? Tricky isn’t it? Lawrence Zeegen apportions blame…

‘Good design goes to Heaven, bad design goes everywhere…’ – I wish I’d said that, but the credit goes to Janine Huizenga, Creative Director of the Waag Society of Old and New Media, an avant-garde, digital-arts, think-tank based in Amsterdam. Huizenga hit the nail on the head – the planet is chock-full-of-bad-design and nobody is to blame, but us. And by ‘us’ - I don’t mean humans, I mean us - designers. And that means you and me.

Ask yourself this question. What was the last truly excellent piece of graphic design that you’ve seen recently? Go on; think about it… tricky isn’t it? Consider, if you will, a vast number of graphic designers toiling away at a vast number of Macs across the length and breadth of the capital, country, continent and globe. Even with the huge glut of graphic design being churned out, when it comes down to the nitty gritty of truly ace work; we always end up plumping for the same inspirational examples. So, Harry Beck’s tube map (1933) always gets a vote, as does Jan Tschichold for his Penguin covers (1946), Saul Bass for his movie poster for The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) and Paul Rand’s IBM identity and poster (1970). Milton Glaser’s ‘I ? NY’ (1977) is frequently in the selection, as is Peter Saville for his Blue Monday 12” single sleeve for New Order. Stefan Sagmeister’s poster, featuring his self-inflicted chip-chopped torso, for an AIGA lecture at Cranbrook (1999) also gets a nod, but it’s a pretty short queue outside Heaven’s gate.

Think about it, you could fit your own list of graphic design classics on the back of envelope – it wouldn’t take long. So, with of an output of simply mammoth proportions (remember those graphic designers at computers – a little like monkeys, typewriters and Shakespeare) why does the role-call of great graphics appear disproportionately small? Surely, we can do better. Of course, we can blame the client – ‘they didn’t want my best idea’ or ‘my hands were tied, creatively’ or we can blame the budget – ‘the money wasn’t there to design something truly special’ or… the list goes on. But, can we really blame anyone but ourselves? Isn’t it our responsibility to ensure that graphic visual communication is the best it can be? The planet deserves it.

Start your day, as any other, and see what I mean – 99% of design is crap. Pick up the post on your way to breakfast; junk mail so poorly designed and conceived it hits the recycling bin unopened. Sit down to eat, have your senses assaulted by low-level packaging design across practically every box of cereal. Head out to work, pick up a paper on route; try to avoid the distraction of every low-rent TV-Kiss-Me-Quick, Chit-Chat or Lad-Rag mag on the newsstands. Pass billboards and Adshells, so intent on dumbed-down, flash-in-the-pan ad campaigns, that anything vaguely creative picks up numerous awards and yet another hot-shot duo hit financial gold with creative pyrite (fool’s gold). All this, and you’re not even at work yet.

So, with your feet under the desk - boot-up and kick-start a new beginning - make today the first day of the rest of your creative life. Take a stand; don’t settle for average, don’t plump for mediocrity, take part and take responsibility; you’re a designer and your output matters. Remember design is a verb as well as a noun and aiming for heaven might seem like hell, but 99% just ain’t a great battling average, now is it…?