Posts in Philosophy
Care > Power
Kurt Vonnegut, 1979 in New York City

Kurt Vonnegut, 1979 in New York City


Kurt Vonnegut wrote in the introduction to "Mother Night":

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

This is similar to what it means to get better at something.  We're all students in our fields in some capacity, which recognizes we'll get better over time.  If being an artist or designer provides a power of sorts, we've made a degree of commitment to the desire of that power to some end.  As students first, we owe it to ourselves to understand the importance of our context in history, as we relate to other fields and the audience we serve.  Our understanding of our audience can influence the work we do more than anything else.

The part I enjoy most about Vonnegut's quote is the word careful; there are two meanings:

  1. making sure of avoiding potential danger, mishap, or harm; cautious.

  2. done with or showing thought and attention.

The first is the most associated meaning, one avoiding risk.  The second expresses thought and attention.

If we are to be artists and designers, we should be those who are not afraid of taking risks; who understand the context of our work, especially as it relates to our bias and audience.  If we are to create at such a capacity and shape the future of the field, the responsibility is not just a power, but a gift and a weight that should humble us.  Anyone who abuses power can easily be recognized as arrogant.  Our duty is to serve our audience and our field at our greatest capacity, just as we believe people in their respective fields do the same. 

If we care not only for how our work addresses our audience, the form of our lens must comprehend history, be capable of being reformed through self-reflection, understand the present clearly, and be capable of projecting a contribution for the future.

If we care, that care will make us better at what we do over time.  If anything, caring is more important than power because it shows respect for others, ourselves, and our field.  The potential for doing our best work is still ahead of us.  If we are to contribute, our thought and attention should be aimed toward the responsibility of becoming the best we can be; not the power that comes from getting there.

One Design for Everyone, Forever
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All references of race, worldviews, languages, bodies, minds, emotions, animals, and aliens are intended as satire. I personally hold no prejudice toward anyone.

When I took out my sketchbook purchased at a big box store that’s 8 1/2 x 11", I did so because it’s the only size everyone uses. I used a Bic pen because it’s universal. It fits perfectly into all of our four-fingered; one-thumbed hands and contrasts so against our light skin so we can see it better. We read the English branding on the pen just like everyone else in the world. When I click it against the wedding ring on my ring finger — sized for everyone—I feel a sense of relief, evaporated from all anxieties of discomfort.

Then, I began to design. I looked through my unisex glasses designed for everyone to see better with and when I wrote, my handwriting was legible for everyone, including those who read and write in Arabic, Mandarin, and Braille. The ink was chosen so even my colorblind dog can read it. I’m so happy in my stretchy t-shirt fitted for every child, woman, and man paired with a matching baseball cap with a plastic fitting mechanism on the back so it fits babies and those with pituitary adenoma. My design is liked by everyone in the world, including the blind, illiterate, and dyslexic. It was inspired by our environment. I live in Chicago, a city of glass, steel, and concrete—rich variations of gray… so, when I think of friends in rural Oregon, who have some of the greenest nature in the United States, I know they feel the design could’ve been created by someone who understands their aesthetic sensibilities most.

When I think of my clients, they’re all the same. Just a pocket of money asking me for the same design I sell to everyone. I don’t see a reason to revise it because it’s worked for 25 years now. 25 years is all it takes to know. I don’t use computers because tangible designs last longer than digital designs. If you want to use it, you’ll have to buy it from me in person. No shipping. It’s been presented on billboards, in virtual reality worlds, and used to represent every product and service ever offered, revealing the inside joke of vector graphics. Every artificial intelligence that’s tried to recreate it just jammed up.

I’m a purist, so the design will last forever. It is and will always be better and more relevant than everything else ever designed. It’s divine. All perfect things are divine. If your worldview doesn’t align with divinity or perfection, it’s okay because it’s still designed for you. It’s simultaneously designed for every individual and organization. It’s designed for every extraterrestrial being, including those in parallel universes. Time-travelers agree — it’s the best there is, ever was, and ever will be.

So, we’ve decided to close down the field of Graphic Design because everyone in the field has either become depressed or changed professions. Fortunately, my design is bringing people out of depression because it stimulates every feeling, dwarfing depression to a cakewalk.

One design for everyone, forever.

Purity of work
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"When I first started working, I had this kind of vision that around the world there was this kind of thin filament and around that world, there were particles in that filament, very widely dispersed... and those particles were people who were looking for me.  You know, they didn't realize it, but they needed me and I was certainly looking for them.  And, I realized there were people out there who saw the world the way that I did and I had to somehow get in touch with them — to find them.  In order to do that, I had to work that was very pure so that I could put out a pure signal so that eventually that signal would pass through that thin filament and that one person in Rotterdam would see it, hear it, and find me.  And, in order to do that you have to live very modestly.  If you want to do the work that is really your work so that you have the freedom to do the right thing."

Bruce Mau said this in an interview with Michael Renaud for a talk I attended in 2014 during the 25th anniversary of the Chicago Humanities Festival.  At the time, I wasn't consciously engaged with the field of design like Mau, but I experienced his Massive Change exhibit in 2006 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, so I was thrilled to be in the audience.

Mau's way of working purely connected with the ethos I've had throughout my career.  When we work, having a client, user, viewer, or audience provides empathy throughout the creative process.  Beyond and more broadly, the way we work is an infinite game, one where ethics and purpose drive us to do work that matters; work that helps us contribute to making our world a better place.

How do we keep this infinite game in perspective on a daily basis? 

Stay modest, seek high-quality learning experiences, don't chase short and fast rewards, and according to Bruce Mau, stay pure to maintain your freedom.

The most intimate object

A cup is the most intimate object.  Embracing it with our hands, we raise it to our face to consume its contents with the senses of smell, taste, and touch.

Imagine two cups:  one is a mass-produced machine-made diner mug — one we've all seen or used countless times.  Its handle is large enough for one, two, and sometimes three fingers, aware of multiple preferences.  The white, neutral glaze is consistent and helps us see the contents easily, which seem more important than the mug itself.  Its white surface needs to be maintained for cleanliness, for the future.

via Amazon

via Amazon

via Charlie Cummings Gallery

via Charlie Cummings Gallery

The other is a one-of-a-kind mug made by ceramicist, Matthew Schiemann.  Its handle is only large enough for one finger, curving toward the shoulder of the mug, a curve that echoes at the bottom side of the body where the opposite hand, when cupped, fits in its embrace.  A modest foot reminds us it also belongs on the tabletop.  The dark glaze on the inside contrasts with the speckled green and brown gloss on the outside that appears spontaneously uncontrolled, yet consistently covers the surface of the stoneware clay.  This mug is made for the present moment, for the observant individual.

Modern design emphasizes systems, geometry, and grid structures that control a future-oriented approach.  Its precision, autonomy, and openness consider its audience broadly and economically.

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese term, opposite of modernism.  It emphasizes imperfection, natural materials, one-of-a-kindness, and personal experiences.

In the modern to wabi-sabi spectrum, where do you drink from?