The Grand Unified Theory of Nothing: Design, the Cult of Science, and the Lure of Big Ideas.

I have to admit that I have always been one that strives for deeper meaning in my work. I want my designs to have an impact on the viewer. Challenge their perceptions and make them think critically about my art and the world around them. I should have understood better when I was told my designs were too conceptual to be picked during my junior year Visual Communications class. I was so angry at the time. I didn’t want to assume the average person was as “stupid” as my teachers told me to think they were. I had more faith in the human mind.

What I’m getting at is the point of Randy Nakamura’s essay.  He says that to strive for a deeper meaning in graphic design is pointless because the point of design is to take something so incredibly complicated and present it in simple terms that anyone, from any sort of background, can understand. 

This is a huge revelation for me to wrap my mind around, and yet it is something I have known from the beginning. We design to help the world understand the world. We simplify the complex. Nakamura is very clear about the fact that we design the world, and not the other way around. He rips into Fritjof Capra’s beliefs about how we are just strands in the web of life, that sooner or later, whatever nature intends to design will come into being, no matter what we do. Irwin claims that nature is a better designer than we are, but Nakamura argues

The world is in fact waiting to be designed, if only because human beings by necessity have to scale time to their own needs. Maybe nature will sculpt a windbreak for your campsite in a few thousand years, but how much smarter and more efficient to make your own out of a few tree branches and a tarp.”

So basically, we are too impatient to wait for nature to do anything but be an inspiration and a canvas. There is nothing mystical about design, no reason to try to raise it to a higher elevation. It is there to explain in lay man’s terms.

This leads to his next conclusion about the importance of form over content. This issue has always and will always be a huge deal for designers.  Is what I say more important than how I say it?  Or vice versa? Nakamura believes form will always take precedent over content. “Design has never ended or ‘solved’ war, poverty, or violence….The design artifacts you leave behind will be your ultimate legacy.”

Now I’m still not sure I fully agree with this, strictly because I hope that one day my designs will change the minds of the world. I believe that other designers are the only ones who remember great typefaces and innovative layouts. But it is the everyday person who remembers how important it is to support Katrina victims because of the heartfelt messages conveyed through posters they’ve seen or give blood because of a great commercial.

So I’m not completely sold on Nakamura’s ideals. Yes, I do agree that our job is to simplify and beautify. But if we stopped worrying about the content of our designs, well, that is a whole new ethical and moral issue. If we stopped caring, would we all be working for tobacco companies or blood diamond corporations? I have to care about the content of my work, if even for my own conscience. But I’ll try to explain things more clearly next time.