The Bad Boys of Design

Day one of the FUSE Conference has come to a close. Already, I can see one trend emerging. There is a sort of quiet rebellion from today's speakers. Not the usual blather of "challenging existing paradigms" and "innovate to evolve", but some serious anger just below the surface of our day-to-day practice. This year, it seems, the bad boys of design have come to tell it how it is, and how it should be.

Early in the day we heard from Marco Beghin of Moleskine who warned us that being a polarizing person means lots of people are gonna hate. By definition it's true — poles are diametrically opposed, often taking opposing sides of an issue. So if you're working within a brand or large organization, it's crucial to ensure that you polarize people to be on your side, and show them you're way of thinking. Let the other guys grumble.

Karim Rashid, industrial designer and all-around creative impresario, did a fair bit of talking about archetypes. In short, there are tons of existing models in our everyday design life which are completely impractical, outdated, or just downright bizarre. His examples include dining room furniture, which is endlessly created to appear as antique and traditional — a replica of something you'd find in the estates of Europe circa 1750. He went onto mention traditional leather shoes, and how amid the casual atmosphere of the workplace today, we're still stomping around in yesterday's foot-gear. He also spoke of watches, which, in his view, are needlessly complicated and downright old-fashioned in their using an intricate machine to tell time. I have to disagree with this point, though. I feel that watches are a gorgeous little way of tying us back to the machine age, and keeping us honest amid all the electronics doo-dads we interact with constantly. I have no love for watch advertising (and how it's all the same), but I love the fact that designers are constantly innovating in what you'd think is a mature medium.

Peter Clark and Wendy Church of Product Ventures gave us insight into their firm's side project attempting to resurrect Absinthe as a modern-day consumer spirit brand. A rebellious move, considering the bad rep the drink has enjoyed for nearly a century. With products like Four Loko coming under fire, can we see the introduction of something considered hallucinogenic and banned in many places? I can already see the conservative groups up in arms at that one.

Later, Stephen Gates of Starwood Hotels reveled in his own controversial status in the industry, earned in part by upsetting the designers of gizmodo.com, and otherwise his own internal clients who would resist the re-design of a hotel chain's website, for example. Stephen's mantras of the day are simply that "good is not good enough" and that "good design is the enemy of great design." Stephen's opinion is that the truly groundbreaking work, the kind of work needed to push a brand to the next level, is fundamentally disruptive. Therefore, it's a good thing when the management team says "I'm nervous." Change is supposed to make you nervous. If it doesn't, he warns, it's really just more of the same.

It is my opinion — as a self-proclaimed fellow bad boy of design — that all criticism comes first from passion, not from jealousy, anger, bitterness, or any other ego-bolstering subconscious practices. We want more from our peers and our profession, from our clients and from ourselves. And so we ask for it, sometimes in less-than-sugary terms. All designers should be bad boys, when the situation calls for it. Constant self-improvement is part of our "never done learning" philosophy. Design is never done. Design is never finished. We are never satisfied.

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