The Fourth Wall

3.13.08 YOU Might Be a Designer Too


I studied Fine Art in school and back then, when I told people I was an artist, they would look at me funny and say: “Oh wow, that’s great. I can’t draw a straight line.” As if that had anything to do with it.

As a professional designer, I get a similar reaction when confessing my occupation: “Oh wow, that’s cool. I’m not at all creative.” As if that has anything to with it.

Or does it? Creativity is generally the commodity most people think that we sell. You know, that je ne sais quois… the magic that we call forth when faced with any assignment from Foreign Policy to A Summer Concert Series at the National Museum of the American Indian. But certain buzz out there in the design community is challenging this potentially old-fashioned notion, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Witness the photo above; a breakfast served to me last weekend by my beau. He would be the first to tell you he is NOT a designer. A sensitive tough guy from North Jersey? Yep. A musician in skinny jeans and pointy shoes? Check. A bona fide jock and sports spectating fanatic? Oh yeah. A designer? No way in H-E-Double-Hockeysticks. Or baseball bats.

But. Uh… look at that breakfast! With a little PhotoShop work, this could be featured in Martha Stewart Living. Ok, perhaps quite a bit of PhotoShop work… but blame that on the yours truly, the photographer. Not the… um, designer. So let’s call breakfast Clue No. 1.


Clue No. 2: The Collection. Yes, we designers collect stuff. In fact, whole blogs could be devoted to the collections of designers because we are obsessive, insane, manic, gotta-have-it-now collectors. I’m pretty sure ebay (go on, your boss isn’t looking, hit that link) was invented just for us… to make global collecting a click away. Pictured above, the BF’s collection of miniature buildings. He has over a hundred, I think. They are arranged to resemble amazing almagamated skylines. NYC. Miami Beach. Tolbuchin 4 689 241 . Paris. Etc. He loves the AIA bookstore. But… noooooo. He’s NOT a designer.


Clue No. 3: Black and white photography. Beautifully framed, purposefully hung (although Peggy Lee should have been located on the other side of Duke and Ella so she faces them rather than outward, but nevermind. Details, details.)


And finally, Clue No. 4: UniWatch. Aside from watching every one of the 2,756 baseball games played each season (he wishes!), the BF is an avid devotee of this site. Yes, it is about sports uniforms. To quote the tagline: The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics. Do you LOVE it? A site about color, typography, logos (and log creep), style, and other design issues as related to sports attire! From the site’s About page:

UniWatch is a media project that deconstructs the finer points of sports uniforms in obsessive and excruciating detail. It has nothing to do with fashion — it’s about documenting and maintaining the visual history of sports design, and about minutiae fetishism as its own reward. If that concept doesn’t make sense to you, no problem — Uni Watch definitely isn’t for everyone, and there have always been people who Don’t Get It™. But for those who understand the pleasures of detail obsession, programmatic classification systems, information overload, and sports history, you’ve come to the right place.

They’re NOT designers though. Nah, those UniWatchers are simply maintaining a visual history of design. Documenting, classifying, obsessing.

So, to return to my point, because I know I had one when I started. Oh yeah, creativity. I’m not so sure that’s what it’s really about my friends. Design is about hunting, gathering, uncovering, discovering, obsessing. And then analyzing, processing, organizing, solving, communicating, informing.

I’m not trying to devalue what we, as professional practitioners do/are/become… with our years of schooling, endless apprenticeship and hard work in the design trenches. Oh contraire! I’m just saying, let’s demystify this a little bit. Look at your own life. Or the life of a loved one. There are places that you connect the dots, bring stuff together, juxtapose the unusual, analyze, organize, create hierarchies. This is the practice of design.

But ok, it doesn’t really make you a designer. I was just kidding about that part. Another post for another time.