Quite a while back, Saturday Night Live aired a skit featuring Horatio Sanz as Pablo Picasso. The skit poked fun at the fact that Picasso was such a mogul in the world of modern art, that he could pretty much get away with anything (art related) in his later years. If I remember correctly, the skit included Picasso doing things to the extent of sneezing into a napkin then deeming it a masterpiece. People of course flocked to this, and hung on his every word simply because he was indeed Picasso – the great cubist painter.
While it’s true that Picasso earned this luxury by proving himself through numerous styles, and of course, being the founding father of the cubism movement, is it right to automatically accept everything he does as gold – when it really might just be some dudes snot in a napkin?
The SNL skit was obviously a joke, but there is definitely some truth to it. Seriously, have you seen some of Picasso’s drawings? I remember being at a museum with my art history class in college while I listened to the professor go on and on about the beauty in this one particular piece he had created. When I finally got up close to observe the details, all I saw were some scribbles on a piece of paper… Granted, there may have been some sort of controversial statement being boldly made with this beyond basic style, but was it really something to be drooling over? I didn’t think so.
Popularity vs. Design Theory
Oddly enough, I find that we still do the same thing today, right within our industry. If you’ve risen to the status of “rockstar designer”, your work is automatically praised regardless of it’s form of function. Like Picasso, however, you have to earn this luxury. It’s not something that is given to just anyone; you’ve got to prove yourself first. Nevertheless, I don’t think a history of success merits a lifetime supply of free passes. When popularity weighs more heavily than design theory itself, we’ve got a big problem on our hands.
The problem isn’t directly within the songs of praise though, it’s more so within the aftermath. Think about it. A well known and loved designer creates something, and for whatever reason, it’s really not that great. Regardless, the community goes nuts over it and applauds the designer for yet another job well done. While it seems fairly innocent on the surface, the inner workings are much more dramatic: A new trend has been born, which is rooted deeper in politics than it is theory.
When the young, impressionable designer finally catches wind of this design and hears about the rave reviews it’s received, of course he’s going to go along with the crowd; it’d be dangerous not to. Next thing you know, everyone’s copying this new look because they want to be just like their beloved ‘rockstar’. The cycle continues and the trend establishes itself. Before you know it, your client is thoughtlessly requesting that you design their project within the same, very specific style. Now, right from the start, you’re being set up to fall down. After all, a design that’s centered around a passing trend, rather than a proven foundation is guaranteed to fail.
Look with Your Own Eyes
Therefore, even if you’re not the person who created the original design, you could still be partly responsible for forcing a flawed trend into the industry based off you’re careless approval. I find this topic to be so important, because we all, at one time or another, suffer from feeling blocked. For whatever reason, it happens. When it does happen, it can be real tempting to find yourself mimicking the style of a widely excepted trend as a last resort. If these broken trends continue to filter their way into our mental arsenal, we’re going to be stuck with a lot of designs that are ineffective while looking exactly the same. Not a good ecosystem to have in such a forward thinking industry.
It’s possible that the “brand” a designer has created for his name, may be much stronger than the actual work he creates. So judge accordingly. Look at designs through your own eyes, rather than the eyes of everyone who has already flagged it as amazing. Question every decision and solution made. If you ask me, there should be no free rides given out. Just because someone rocked on a project in the past, doesn’t mean they’re going to continue to do so for the rest of their career. Assuming they will could set an astonishingly low bar for the entire industry, which could essentially leave us all running in circles.
Recognizing someone for a job well done is an important thing to do. It builds community, while encouraging and motivating people. Just be sure that the job has been, in fact, done well before you let the compliments fly.