Beginner's Mind | 003
What does design illiteracy mean and how is it shaping the way creatives think and work. Plus, insights from Robert Pirsig, Brian Eno, and Daniel Lanois.
Welcome March 2020.
The year is off to a good start—Australian fires, election year, COVID-19, and broken New Years resolutions. Let’s keep fanning the flames of uncertainty and perhaps next year, we’ll be living on Mars or in a barrel 10 feet under.
I’ve looked forward to writing this issue of Beginner’s Mind; the other day, I was on the airplane drafting what I would write about in my notebook. Unfortunately, I don’t have the notebook with me now so I’ll have to guess what that Christian wanted to say. I’m writing now from the Chicago neighborhood Pilsen — at a small coffee shop drinking decaf coffee. The place is neat but it’s definitely Gentrification U.S.A. Put a bird on it. I just had a conversation with the person running the place, he’s wearing a shirt that says “Bad Seed” so we talked about Nick Cave. I’ve always enjoyed that term, BAD SEED.
I began to warm and chill to objects and their fields a ragged cup a twisted mop the face of Jesus in my soup those sinister dinner deals
Overall, this month was pleasant, except for the week of the 24th.
I’ve been re-reading a collection of essays by Jessica Helfand, Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture, and 1.) she’s an incredible writer, maybe in four hundred years, I will write like her. 2.) She has an essay on illiteracy in design. Published in 2001, almost 20 years ago, her words ring true today. She begins by bringing up the idea that designers be licensed to practice but then argues that the quality of design can’t be quantified because after all, malpractice in design rarely occurs. I disagree — it happens all the time. *points at McDonalds*
Today’s design principles seem to have little tangible value in our community. Rather the design community appears to be relaxed and focused on too-much-play; a sense of belonging and participation is virtual through a similar language in aesthetics.
I’m thinking about the design software, media platforms, and inspiration; how now more than ever, anybody can be a creative! Download this new app and you can apply filters to your photography, search up a hashtag and cure your lack-of-inspiration-illness, earn a quick degree in design and become the next design influencer, browse Dribbble 🤮and look at what works, do something like it, and all of a sudden you have something that looks good and will sell because after all, it’s trendy.
While, I’m thankful for these new tools and opportunities for everybody to exercise their creative muscles, I am concerned that these new approaches to the design profession, dilute our work and advocate for a culture of uninformed design, fast-food design, illiterate design. Design that carries no weight and isn’t consciously rooted in anything. If you want to witness an example of design illiteracy, browse the comment sections of design posts and you’ll see the language at which things are approved. Excellent. Gorgeous. So clean. Sick Bro! 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
What if the next time we experience a gumption trap, we talk with a stranger, we sit still, write a poem, or stare at a rock.
I’ll write more about this later.
The Chicago Design Book Club
With that said, I’m in the process of finding a location to host my new project, The Chicago Design Book Club—A platform for designers to engage in conversation about the theory and practice of graphic design. First meeting coming sometime soon (Currently securing a space).
Film of the month
I ended February with a trip to the theater to watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The film takes place in 18th century France. It’s about a woman (Marianne) that is asked to paint a portrait of a woman (Héloïse) who is scheduled to marry. The previous painter failed to paint the reluctant subject who refused to sit still so Marianne must paint Héloïse candidly without letting her know. They go on walks, Marianne taking mental notes and painting by memory to the best of her ability at night. As they begin to acquaint themselves with each other, they develop a deep intimate connection and things happen.
Go watch it.
Music of the month
I discovered The Langley School Music Project on Spotify a few weeks ago, and it’s unlike anything I’ve listened to in the past. It’s a collection of children’s chorus recordings from the late 70s. They cover hits such as Space Oddity, Band on the Run, my favorite, The Long and Winding Road, and Sweet Caroline. And because it was recorded in a school gymnasium, it has a unique reverb sound.
Book of the month
I finished re-reading a book I mentioned on here before, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, by Robert Pirsig. This probably explains my existential crisis that I had on the week of the 24th. The book follows a father & son on a motorcycle trip from Minnesota to Northern California. Along the journey, the father alternates between his former self, a philosophy professor and family man, who underwent electroconvulsive therapy, to his present day self. Throughout the trip, he explores the meaning of Quality, which he explores in great depth without ever really offering a proper definition. He also compares two ways of looking at the world, the classical perspective and the romantic perspective. The classical referring to an objective view detached from emotions, such as keeping up with maintenance on your motorcycle and the romantic referring to hey as long as my motorcycle runs and looks fine, it’s a good motorcycle.
He writes and writes about technical motorcycle maintenance that I did not understand and just when you think he’s done, he goes into greater depth, describing parts and tools and jargon which left me clueless. But somehow, I keep reading because I know that the book is merely exposing me to my impatience and insecurities.
Excerpts from the book.
The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called 'yourself'.
The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.
I designed a logo a few months ago for a friend’s collective of Southside Chicago blue-collar artists. And it’s now on somebody’s skin forever (their hand to be exact).
I worked on two posters which I’m very fond of. I discovered two quotes that really stood out to me. One by Aldous Huxley and the other by Federico Garcia Lorca. They’re part of a series I’m working on titled WU 無, which means inner, intuitive experience of Enlightenment.
Throughout the the day, there are moments of reflection where truth is ever present and clear. It's here that a certain feeling, emotion, or attitude is grasped and translated into visual medium. Each poster reflects a moment in time where a fragment of enlightenment was felt and captured.
Daniel Lanois I’m trying to make a film that's beautiful in itself, about beauty, about the, the source of the, of the art rather than everything that surrounds the art
Brian Eno Yeah, yeah
Daniel Lanois And I was hoping that you might say a couple of words about that subject matter 'cause, you know, you've always operated in a relatively quiet way, and yet, you're like a, a world artist
Brian Eno Well, I tell you, one thing I would say about your film is that, what would be really interesting for people to see, is how beautiful things grow out of shit. Because nobody ever believes that. You know, everybody thinks that Beethoven had his string quartets completely in his head. They'd somehow appeared there and formed in his head. Before he, and all he had to do was write them down and they would kind of be manifest to the world. But I think what's, what's so interesting and what would really be a lesson that everybody should learn is that things come out of nothing. Things evolve out of nothing. You know, the, the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest. And then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. And I think this would be important for people to understand, because it gives people confidence in their own lives to know that that's how things work. If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted, they have these wonderful things in their head, but you're not one of them, you're just sort of a normal person, you could never do anything like that, then you live a different kind of life, you know. You, you could have another kind of life where you can say, where you say, well, I know that things come from nothing very much and start from unpromising beginnings, and I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something
Okay, that’s it. If you’ve gotten this far. Thank you. As always, please reach out if you have any questions or want to talk.