The DIY debate: Questions for a Design Community

It's very easy to design most anything today. Computers are very cheap (in comparison to past years), desktop printers are practically free, digital cameras are cheaper than ever. And possibly most important of all is the easier interface of design software and programs. A simple google search could turn up answers to most any question. And with a 24 hour Kinko's around the corner, you can have a professional finished final product in a matter of minutes.

The problem with all this? What happens to the Graphic Designer?

There is a debate in AIGA website relating to the Design It Yourself movement, started by author Ellen Lupton. Her latest book, in conjunction with her graduate students, is entitled DIY: Design It Yourself. The book instructs the "average joe" how to recognize good design, and do it themselves. A complimentary website has templates and other goodies to download. There are lessons on how to design most everything including business cards, labels, invitations, and kid stuff, with the basic message being, "why buy when you can do it yourself?"

What kind of contoversy has this created? So far among the design community, some heated arguments have arised. Many designers disagree with encouraging people to do their own design because they may send out the wrong message, or mess up their reputation. However, a lot of the controversy may be out of fear of job stability.

Here is the DIY LINK

We would like to know what you think about this issue. Please answer one or more of the below questions, or give us your general opinion.

- What do you think about Lupton's way of educating non-designers?

- What do you think about people doing their own graphic design work?

- What is your reaction to graphic design done by non-designers?

- How do you think this book affects the field of graphic design?

- Are Ellen Lupton (and her class) "traitors" to the graphic design community?

- What is the role of a graphic designer?

Anyone (graphic designers or not) can respond. Make sure you express exactly how you feel about the issue.

posted by Dwight McKnight and Jessica Rose on February 7, 2006 | comments: 27 | post a comment

good post, you two. have you been talking to tony? we discussed this book just the other day, and i have skimmed through tony's copy of it. i think lupton's way of educating non-designers is quite good, although we all know that one book does not a professional designer make. the book begins with some background about diy and why there is interest in it (by the way, the title 'design it yourself' is a play on the longstanding ethic of 'do it yourself', which is nothing new really), then she gives a cursory nod to some 'how-to' design principles, and launches into the 'how-tos' of every conceivable media type, from making cd artwork to diy fashion design. my impression is that the book is about sharing the joy and power of design with a public that is increasingly interested in better designed things -- they realize that good design improves quality of life. so i think her interest in spreading the love of graphic design is a very good one, and the book can serve to empower people to literally 'make their own choices', rather than being subjected to what professional designers or corporate america would have them buy. i am very much in favor of this sort of empowerment and view it as a part of democratic society -- that people have a choice in how to organize and live their lives.

i really enjoy seeing people do their own graphic design work, precisely for the reasons mentioned above. they have exercised their creative powers, just like when you grow your own food, fix your own car, or own your own house. you are taking control over another aspect of your life, and that is incredibly important, and more people should try that because it feels great. artists who are self-taught are called 'folk artists' and their work has a niave charm and quirky character. i think the same is true of designers, although like folk artists, there are obvious exceptions who come to master their craft and make amazing things. david carson, tibor kalman, and carlos segura had no formal design training.

any designer worth their salt should not be worried that some dude with an intricate knowledge of the guassian blur tool will steal their job. the vast majority of diy designers are just noodling around, having fun making tshirts and greeting cards (both of which are covered in the diy book). they typically will not be able to manage complex bodies of information for specialized audiences; put together a design team for a comprehensive identity program; design software, font families, or other tools for other designers; or produce a series of technical animations for a biotech company. that's (a sample of) what a well-trained graphic designer can do. we are being trained to be stong creative thinkers and innovative form makers, able to work across a variety of media, not to design band flyers to be printed at kinkos (although that's mighty fun too).

Posted by tyler on February 9, 2006 11:22 PM

sorry for the hellishly long post there.

by the way, part of my thesis topic is about this very thing. i'm looking at how temporal media is persuasive, and putting together a website of examples so media activists can analyze the techniques and go make their own persuasive videos, animations, etc, more effectively. if anyone has input or opinions about it, or just wants to talk more, i'd love to do so. just hit the link on my name below and check out 'thesis blog' for progress reports.

Posted by tyler on February 9, 2006 11:28 PM

when jessica and dwight first told us about the ellen lupton diy thing, we all sort of reacted with a mild sort of outrage (does that make sense?). oh my goodness! the end of professional graphic design! what will we do? we were sort of perplexed why ellen lupton, someone whose writings have been inspiring us since we got here, would come up with an idea seemingly detrimental our profession.

well, after a bit more consideration, i agree with what Tyler is saying. People being more interested in design can actually be good for us. People's tastes for what makes a good website/poster/logo/etc can reach new levels which could increase the demand for professional design. Many people know how to build a house, but when it comes to building their dream house, who do they go to--a professional.

so, we can turn our noses up at the DIY design and say look what you've done computers! but, hasn't non-professional design sort of always been around. it is on a different scale now, but that is simply because of the natural progression of life--things change, right? so I guess we just take it in and adapt, and as tyler says we just need to keep proving we are "worth our salt."

Posted by katie n on February 15, 2006 11:43 AM

easy access/affordability of the [digital] camera did not erase the photographer's existence. people still go to a photographer for "professional" family photos or
fashion shoots, images for books/magazines etc.

i read over ellen lupton and steven heller's discussion on the aiga website and i side with ellen. the tools and medium are available now more than ever making it easier to "do [design] it yourself". i don't think there's anything wrong with a designer teaching others about "design", since it is a way of thinking. if people become more aware then they will begin to understand what design actually is. graphic design is a discipline, we do more than "advertising", and maybe one day our parents won't have that puzzled look on their face when we say we want to major in "graphic design".

i think its great if people design things for themselves. for example, my dad, a small business owner, designed his own brochure (i wasn't home) and he was proud of it. ok, maybe it wasn't the "best" design, but he was content with it, being that it contained the information that people needed [more than the visual]. i think its great when people make their own things, it provides a creative outlet or a way to express oneselves. there's a feeling of self accomplishment in making something on your own.

i think ellen's idea of designing a way to educate people about how to design is great. in my eyes this is one step forward, not back. it doesn't mean they're going to take over our job or eliminate the graphic designer forever, but appreciate it more.

Posted by adrienne yancey on February 15, 2006 03:36 PM

Katie is right in saying that this "DIY" has always been around. Not long ago, most of what we as "professional" designers would have fallen to tradesmen — sign painters, typographers, photographers — or, if their services were available or deemed insufficient, to the people who needed the designed thing (think signage done by the shop owner).

The dabate seems to be in how this affects the position that the "professional" designer has defined for him(or her)self. For a while, the technology was complicated enough that it required someone who knew what they were doing for even the simplist designs. But programs are stronger, interfaces clearer, and computers more reliable. It's falling back into the hands of that shop owner who needs a way to advertise a sale. And this is scaring the design profession, which has gotten used to having a monopoly on business cards and brochures.

Designers need to get used to the idea that some of what they have started thinking about as thier domain is going back into the hands of the people who need the design. And from thier point of view, this is a wonderful thing. They can get exactly what they want without paying some designer and waiting for them to "get around to it." They can push print and post thier sign, or poster, or whatever. They're winning.

But I dont think that means that designers are losing. We just might need to redefine.

Posted by Libby Levi on February 15, 2006 03:48 PM


my thoughts are in support of Ellen and her students. yes, at first, one might be taken back, but when you really start to think about it, their 'education' is a good one. it by no means makes people professional designers; however it does, make them more conscious and aware.

isn’t that what we struggle with all of the time being a graphic designer? so often you hear “oh they just don’t understand…” well this helps them to.

By helping the general public to gain a greater understanding of design, helps with design and it’s involvement in everyday life. More people will be come more aware (better aware). I don’t think this will make people ‘think’ they can do it and that graphic design is easy – I think it helps them to understand design at its highest level.

tyler’s point that this book can help to empower people to make their own choice instead of having corporate america deciding for them hits it right on point. more of this should be done – its critical for ‘our’ evolvement.

Posted by megan on February 15, 2006 03:58 PM

hmm...this is an interesting one. overall, maybe non-designers doing graphic design is a great thing. i think it could make for a new level of creativity...meaning creativity without any restraints that formally educated designers often work with. these non-designers would break "rules" of design without knowing it and by doing this we designers may ask ourselves why we have these restraints in the first place. how do i know what "good design" is? most of it is from my own personal opinion, but it is also from what i have been told during my design education so far.

this do it yourself design could also be a good thing for designers in a way that we dont want to admit. if we now have to compete with do-it-yourself design then shouldnt that push us to futher perfect our craft as "professional designers"? it seems to me that the designers who are upset about this issue may also be the ones that are upset that an uneducated non-designer could produce something more successful than that of a professional designer...

Posted by Jessica Willetts on February 15, 2006 04:00 PM

I'd say: Keep in mind that anybody who makes graphic design is a graphic designer. You may get a degree here, but this isn't a regulated field (like medicine). Your degree doesn't get you in the door of an exclusive club, it just helps you to develop the talents which in turn will help you excel in the future.

And really, if "untrained" designers are taking jobs, I'll bet they're the jobs we don't want, or will be better off without. (You know, the awkward ones that never materialize because you discover the prospective client doesn't really want a designer, after all.)

Oh, I said "we." They are we, too, is my whole point.

And I think Tyler said (and I hadn't thought of this) that raising awareness of design can't hurt. It's a good thought.

So I just take issue with the implicit notion of the "other," the us-vs-them. Designer equals one who designs. Training and study can equal good designer, but it must not be the only way...

And I think all that we can say with certainty about the role of the graphic designer is this: To design.

Posted by Matthew Peterson on February 15, 2006 04:34 PM

Fear is only anger - turned inward.

My belief is that if you want to find out about something and really sink your teeth into and learn and transform it to suit your needs, then you will with or without a guide book. The Ellen Lupton red carpet treatment to the "lay community" is to me, almost gimmicky. But good for her. Elevating the general pot of knowledge about design is defintely good. It makes our body politic more discerning and keeps us all in check.

Posted by Jessica G. on February 15, 2006 05:09 PM

I know this isn't a critique of the book but let me first say that I LIKE IT. I just bought one for a good friend of mine, because she is creative and I wanted to put the power to make things real in her hands.

As designers (trained or untrained) our strength is not in knowing how to use technologies or media or different reproduction methods; it is in how we use them. This book shows you how to access those media, but it doesn't teach people what they really need to know to make those products successful: idea generation, concept development, choosing a visual language, understanding an audience, thinking critically, iterations, revisions, blah blah.

This stuff can't be taught with a book. We, as people who did their time in school, have that "stuff", and we're not giving it away by showing some examples of creative thinking in a book. The book shows you how to make your ideas real, but it doesn't show you where those clever ideas in the examples come from, and it's clear that they came from design students and not your average shmo.

As a professional I hate being asked by a relative or a friend's band to design their "brand", business card, tshirt, etc. To them I want to say, go DIY; if you have a crappy band, your shirt should look like a crappy band made it. My cousin's logo for her home-based jewelry beading business should not look slick and polished. It should look like what it feels like to call up a mother of three and have your order taken while she's on the stairmaster with Oprah on mute. Design coming from within is authentic. My mom's been asking me for 5 years to design her business card, but really i think it's fine the way it is: she picked out some clip art and a typeface, and it was generated by a machine at the mall.

This book is pushing design in a different direction, which is exactly what we needed. I'm gonna tell my momma to do her own business card and let me save my brain for challenging projects that will not make me bored with design in 5 years. The stuff in the book is fun, but it's not all we do, and we should let others in on the fun. Although it's common to hear "oh, you mean like logos and web sites?" when you tell someone you're a graphic designer, we really do a lot more than that, and you won't find how-to directions that can get you where we are.

Posted by berkoWho? on February 15, 2006 05:15 PM

Graphic Design (yes, with the capital G and D) is not the only field that is affected by DIY… I cook my own meals, without the benefit of a "trained expert" (Chef); I do my own investing, banking & taxes (eek!) without the benefit of an Accountant, Broker or Financial Advisor; I occasionally "heal thyself" without running to an M.D.… I am, therefore, a member of the DIY community.

For the types of investments that I make, I'm HARDLY making the financial experts quake about the future of their professions… but I try to make informed decisions, and in the process I have a better appreciation for their skills. It is akin to the untrained designer producing their own newsletter. In my opinion, Lupton's book is more of a service than a disservice to the profession. She's simply acknowledging that people ARE going to fend for themselves, and so they may as well be making more educated choices. I foresee (at least) 2 benefits to this: people will realize that creating smart, effective, attractive design is not always as easy as it might look, and people may (hopefully) realize that Hobo is NOT an acceptable typographic choice.

Sarcasm aside, this is a trend that can actually aid the profession… our audiences and clients will be more educated about the design process and will hopefully develop an appreciation for the value of good, smart design. More effective collaborations can take place, and more sophisticated solutions can be arrived at (for example, think about the priority that much--if not all--of Europe places on design).

Posted by tracy on February 15, 2006 05:41 PM

P.S.… I was able to distill a lot of these ideas thanks to a conversation I had with Ryan Cook--he was the one who actually brought up the medical DIY example, referencing WebMD.

Posted by tracy on February 15, 2006 11:03 PM

stephen hellar sez
'With everything so democratic, we can lose the elite status that gives us credibility.'

'I worry that D.I.Y. is a license to kill-and to kill the designer. Please save us from well-meaning amateurs!'

wow... to think that you exist for some reason.
;-) ;-) :-j
just pickin dud.

bird with the at belly: your cane is quite crooked.
bird with the at belly: you have 2'

Posted by critter on February 16, 2006 12:36 AM

someone in the AIGA thread brought up the point that this wasn't the first instructional design book ever published, which leads me to wonder why this is such a big deal. I guess the "controversy" is that Ellen Lupton wrote the book?

I think Tracy's examples are right on point with DIY taxes and medical care. As designers, we should be imagining the problems and progress to be designed in a world where our client list DOESN'T consist of little logos and business cards.

maybe the people that are really traumatized by this book are simply the old guard that have enjoyed a little elitist bubble for a little too long?

ps- there's a whole library section on electrical engineering, if anyone wants to study-buddy-up

Posted by lauren on February 16, 2006 09:08 AM

FYI, re: DIY…
Design Observer points out that ReadyMade Magazine, a DIY endeavor, has made it into the Cooper-Hewitt Triennial. Hmmm…what does that say about the field's general perception of DIY…?

Posted by tracy on February 16, 2006 12:46 PM

In reference to Cheryl's comments about accessing/using media vs creative meaning and concept: THIS is what I believe it all boils down to.

The question then starts becoming 'What does a graphic designer do?' If our answer only revolves around making and producing things, we are sadly mistaken. If all we come away with from this school is how to use a printer and kern type, then we have wasted 4 (at least) years of time and money. As Tyler and many others have stated earlier in this thread, it's great that we can produce, but WE ARE MORE THAN THIS.

We go through critiques every week to learn how to talk about our work. We present our portfolios to strangers who we have to convince that our work and effort is the best. We are learning to be communicators. We have to be able to sit down in front of someone and have a meaningful conversation. If not meaningful, then at least comfortable and heartfelt. I love that we're all using analogies in other fields. I cook but I'm not a chef. I can repair my deck but I am not a construction worker. I can do my taxes but I'm not an accountant. You may call yourself a designer if you can make your own object, but are you communicating and do you know how to apply it in a system and convince others that they need it as well?

Those of us taking Tony Brock's studio/classes have heard of the possible direction that graphic design is taking. Soon, there might not even be graphic design as we know it. The DIY that we are speaking of now may be entirely accomplished by the computer. The 'pushing of the pixels' as we call it will know longer be done by human intelligence. So where in the world do we fit in? We have to go back to being creative and using our imagination. Forget making anything ... where is it going to go? How can we use and apply this thing that has already been made in a way never thought of before?

True, making is part of what makes us designers. But it does not define us. Let's figure out where we need to belong and stop worrying that those who are making there own stickers and business cards are going to run us out of town.

Posted by Alex Ford on February 16, 2006 06:24 PM

Rummaging around this post and the links in here have been interesting...being someone very early on in a design education, it is quite daunting to realize that the field you going into is in, what seems to be, a bit of an identity crisis. Daunting and exciting, I should say.

I agree wholeheartedly with Alex's notion that perhaps "making" is not the only action that defines a designer. Because it is just that - an action. We can make, make, do, make all day long and yes, it proves an ability to produce a product, but the real deal behind all of that, for me, is the purposefulness and thought behind all that pushing stuff around the screen (or whatever else you might be working with.) I think there is an inherent communication you discover through making, but so much is facilitated through study and discussion. Where is your work without intent? Without conviciton and the ability to back up what you are doing with reason?

Not to say that DIY is not without intent. I also think that turning up noses to this phenomenon is kinda silly. If someone wants to make their own whateverthey'remaking, go right ahead. Maybe through that act will come more attention to detail and appreciation for self sufficiency that the American public as a whole doesn't really exhibit. Graphic Design is not some sacred ritual that needs to be kept away from the general populace. The act of making is what is being offered here, not a 4, 8, 10 years - or a lifetime - of design education. Or passion for communicating through making. We make that happen. And as far as I see, that's a pretty cool thing.

Posted by Sarah Leigh on February 16, 2006 08:13 PM

RE: FYI, re: DIY…
"Design Observer points out that ReadyMade Magazine, a DIY endeavor, has made it into the Cooper-Hewitt Triennial. Hmmm…what does that say about the field's general perception of DIY…?"

tracy, it says that ellen lupton, curator at the cooper-hewitt and author of 'design it yourself' likes diy.

in reality it was likely a larger panel that decided to include 'readymade' magazine. i believe its inclusion is an acknowledgement of diy's impact on contemporary design culture. the acknowledgement of specific cultural trends affecting [or directly related to] graphic design is also evidenced by the inclusion of speak up and google on this list.

Posted by tyler on February 21, 2006 01:01 AM

let me chime in with and paraphrase much of the sentiment above: by disseminating awareness of the tools of design, the value of the mastery of those tools only becomes more apparent. i.e. the webmd example works because everytime you look something up, it becomes painfully obvious to you that you are not a doctor. [or, to cheryl's point, sometimes all you need is bedrest and fluids.]

now to add grist: i think the more apt analogy for lupton's model is that of a cookbook. at the aiga conference in boston, i made a nifty t-shirt in their workshop. it has some really hip animals on it, and an enigmatically tiny number "20." did i "Do It [m]Yself?

lupton, et al. provided workshop participants with:
~ print gocco machines, screens, bulbs and ink
~ instruction in specific ways to use above tools
~ a variety of clip art and type to make our "designs" with
~ luxurious and politically-aware american apparel t-shirts in metro-fashion colors

lo! all of the shirts on the drying table looked oddly similar. the "design" at work here was that of those who selected the elements. aspiring DIY'ers were presented with a selection and layout problem -- MIY (Make It Yourself). this time-honored methodology has been well-tested in the Domestic Sciences" a "recipe."

~ + ~ + ~ + ~ + ~ + ~ + ~ + ~ + ~ + ~ + ~

i think the "logo" for the DIY book is telling. i know we all love us some hand-drawn type these days, but aesthetics and intent aside: is a notebook doodle "design"? that is to ask, does design need a plan? at what level does this plan need to be implemented in order for it to function as design?

curious why the windhover covers haven't come up in this thread yet...

Posted by jay on February 21, 2006 08:07 AM

I work for a homebuilder as one of two on the design team. One of my less glamorous responsibilities unfortunately includes designing flyers to be given to realtors & prospective buyers (you know, the ones in the "TAKE ONE" box in front of a home for sale).

I wish I could buy a copy of this book for all the sales reps who have ever asked me to use Papyrus or put an ugly ClipArt on these flyers (which I of course NEVER acquiesce).

My first instinct is to fear for the safety of my future as a graphic designer... but really, if the way I design is "safe", I'm not doing myself or the person I'm designing for any favors. Take pride, professors: I think we might actually be learning something in this program that you can't learn from an online photoshop tutorial.

If DIY means I don't have to "dumb down" or "ugly up" my design for a client, I'm for it. It's more fun to like your end product.

Posted by Amy C on February 21, 2006 11:15 AM

tracy, it says that ellen lupton, curator at the cooper-hewitt and author of 'design it yourself' likes diy.

Your response is flippant and too easy; I was asking whether people thought this was an accurate reflection of the profession's view. As curator, Ellen wields a lot of power, and is a primary authority in determining what does and does not make it into the Triennial. But 6 years ago, graphic design was represented with projects like David Small's Talmud… that's innovation. How much progress are we really making in developing a design discourse when graphic design is represented by showcasing a DIY publication? Especially one whose current issue explains how to create a "DIY confessional at a wedding reception for guests to "do their best Real World imitations" Keep in mind, too, that the Triennial is not graphic design-specific, and therefore offers a prime opportunity to exhibit our best to an external audience. Are we really doing our best? Does it really stack up to Bernard Tschumi?!

To your point, simply acknowledging DIY's impact on contemporary design culture is not enough. The reason why DIY examples Speak Up and Google are viable participants is because they also fulfill the requirement of innovation. Speak Up embodies the formal attributes often associated with graphic design, the type of info easily disseminated to others through various DIY publications. But it's also conceptually and strategically smart; it's a pioneer in its use of technology as a means to merge self-publishing & discourse; it enables a global audience of design professionals to share thoughts & ideas as co-authors through a blog format.

Let me reiterate here that I'm not anti-DIY (see earlier post), but that the movement is hardly innovative (also see earlier post); it's a trend that has existed forever. If the Triennial is really seeking out "the most innovative American designs in a variety of fields," is Ellen, et al doing an effective job in the graphic design category, or sacrificing innovation in order to push personal agendas and simply acknowledge trends? (In addition to Ellen's DIY agenda, Triennial sponsor Target also benefits from Deborah Adler's inclusion—she designed the bottles that Target exclusively dispenses through their pharmacy). Maybe I'm transgressing from the original thread, but that's how discussions go… now that we've begun to establish our position(s) on the DIY movement, it makes sense to ask how we plan to distinguish our abilities from the "how-to" population that we've largely acknowledged not to feel threatened by.

Posted by tracy on February 21, 2006 02:55 PM

Wow… I do not "write nice" when frustrated (folks, don't blog while under enormous stress). I misread sTyler's tone in response to my question (re: ReadyMade as an entry in the Cooper-Hewitt Triennial), and can see that I got pretty "flippant" myself. Beyond that first sentence, though, I'd be curious to know what others think.

humble apologies…

Posted by tracy on February 24, 2006 04:30 PM

tracy, no problem on the post. you made some good points in it. what i was getting at regarding the inclusion of readymade is that the design triennial doesn't necessarily reflect 'the professions' design standards, more more accurately, ellen lupton's (and probably a small handful of other opinions). i tend to see it like you mentioned -- maybe she's just furthering her own interests, like target's inclusion of the medicine bottle designer. in a way, it reminds me of 'the heller effect' that the field suffers from in terms of design books. he is so prolific that it almost squeezes out other opinions, and many students are likely to get a large chunk of their opinions about design from heller. which is why i think more of us need to enter the fray, and do-it-ourselves in terms of design writing. the more people actively taking part, the better the ideas get, the better the discourse becomes, the smarter we all get, and the more design moves forward. cool.

i agree with your sentiment about d.i.y. not being the most forward-thinking example of design thinking, especially compared to past project like you mentioned. perhaps we're in a lull...

Posted by tyler on February 24, 2006 11:33 PM

DIY is one part of the equation. The rest is slowly showing up in the software you are using right now.

To move forward, lets discuss the following:

DIY initiative/gumption/interest +
networked visual and creative databases (including AI-like/smart templates) +
tagged original content +
results-oriented user interfaces +
dynamic/motion-based push AND pull screen dialog =


(the last two items could be redundant—that's being hopeful)

Posted by Tony Brock on February 26, 2006 08:54 AM

Whoa—that was a thread-killer. Maybe spring break is the answer, but I will elaborate a bit in hopes of not stopping the works.

Say you sit down to your computer and the experience is a bit more interactive—maybe even something akin to a nice warm chat. No annoying attempt at "dialog" such as a little Mac SE looking fellow waving at you and popping up glove-handed and merry, but something that is welcomed—maybe even productive. This increase in interaction and dialog with the box wouldn't take too much because if you sit in front of it now the greatest degree of interaction in response to your presence may be that it goes to sleep.

What I am talking about is the combination of smarter, retasked, remetaphored software that "knows" a range of paths that might be meaningful to lead you on/up (could lead down too, but we know of that path already and we hope for more) and your ability to digest moving images (TV, movies, cars driving by your house, people sitting in front of you talking to you and waving their hands about).

Now if we can begin to have that sort of dialog with a computer or better lets call it the emissaries of design, writing, history, knowledge, value, meaning ("GOOD GRAPHIC DESIGNERS"), and, yes, productivity and efficiency, then maybe the relationships we like to debate with delight in our PoMo dexterity will move to a new phase of creative co-authorship which includes production and creation of the artifact itself and not merely the interpretation of it after the fact of making.

What we end up with is a new relationship between designer, client, instigator, author—we have a dialog that fundamentally reorders and expands from our normal conception of sequence, as well as time and space in all things known as "design practice"—the good old day-to-day, top-down, linear approaches that keep us scared and rushing to ever higher ground of self-serving elitist d-r-e-a-m-s.

At this point in this sort of discusson/banter/argument the huge-hearted and truly creative—I say this with zero sarcasm, I really mean those folks I love and respect—will call foul!, death of vision!, death of all that is valued in creative life! I know the fear and confusion that saturates these cries and I say we have a great deal of work ahead to explain this in its full dimension and creative possibility—its creative inevitability.

Maybe that gives some soul to the list/equation above and doesn't leave us dead in the water...

+ + +

So back to DIY proper. Instead of trying to hold ground that is already gone and has been recast, remolded, and accepted by many, we need to ask why we do what we do.

Visual literacy and ultimately far greater literacy in all modes of communication (oral, visual, kinetic, haptic) should be our common goal. Those who defy literacy under any guise are your enemy or are simple blind and trying to save crumbling ground for very small internally-focused whims of their here and now. Some might see it as a war fought with little care for the future or just a gut reaction in fleeing from the unknown. We all live in a time of NOT-knowing—lets admit it and start talking again with new purpose.

If someone walks away from you or refuses you to speak and seek greater understanding, you know who you have to spend more time with for those folks have not perfected the special skills needed to move forward and make this a better place. Those folks might know better but they have given up. Hmmm, well we could all say this old world is damned, but that's just fatalistic and ends in zero progress. Let's just choose to drop the arrogance and posturing and get down to the messy business of seeking greater understanding. This is contingent on more effective and meaningful modes of communication shared between open-minded folk and with the use of those dead things that we can program with creativity—both people and machines.

Do/Design It Yourself is a necessary step in many ways. In the short run we need to move forward without bemoaning in an endless loop of how dumb, common, non-stylish folk just are not worthy of knowing the special skills—don't we want understanding of the "radically complex" via the "beautifully useful"?

Wake up Graphic Design (cap-G to cap-D)! We have folks across this fine globe teaching Eng. Comp. 101 (choose your language) with good old notions of text (book) literacy, but they now have students writing with sound, motion, and image too—oh, my. In the areas of "experience design" and "interaction design", those outside of cap-G to the cap-D are centuries ahead.

Time to drop the façade folks and get honest with a creative life where you are not the center but something far more useful.

Posted by Tony Brock on March 11, 2006 02:13 PM

i just ran across this book today, 'soft cinema: navigating the database' by our pal lev manovich. it was published last april. has anyone seen this book or dvd? tony?

the reason i bring this up is because of the following description from the amazon website:

'Although the films resemble the familiar genres of cinema, the process by which they were created demonstrates the possibilities of soft(ware) cinema. A "cinema," that is, in which human subjectivity and the variable choices made by custom software combine to create films that can run infinitely without ever exactly repeating the same image sequences, screen layouts and narratives.'

i guess i'm trying to wrap my brain around what these things could be, practically speaking, that tony is referring to with the databases and the tags and the push/pull and the this and the that and the kitchen sinks. i mean, i understand what flickr is, and similar sites, but maybe i don't appreciate its significance in terms of the potential it represents.

now, if this is about setting up complex software systems that empower people to 'do it themselves' and i can sit back and see all the amazing things made from a system i devised (like those movies mentioned above), then i'm down with that. but i'm still not totally sure i comprehend all you're saying above, tony. i'll have to re-read in a day or so.

Posted by tyler on March 14, 2006 02:28 AM

I have not seen the films, but what is described in the Amazon listing is another line of generative art or design. This has to do more with what is infinite, random, and facilitated by what the computer does very well right now. What I am hinting at uses the same sort of collaborative production and creation but for a generally different goal—the making of a specific graphic design thing. It is also something that computer-mediated collaboration doesn't do very well yet.

Form generators—Flash-based or otherwise—can play along a sliding scale and we are familiar with more randomized methods of coming to a solution, but I'm going to hold the line to the day-to-day, task-oriented sense of business that 90+ percent of graphic designers deal with. What I am talking about is also more of a collaboration mediated on screen where the designer is present (although disembodied) in the software, templates, and "voice" guiding/collaborating with the one at the screen. This is where we can talk more about what "smart" and AI anything means and how these two terms are represented by the designer and their role in the design process.

We discount templates, software, CMS, etc. because of limited vision and our bad experiences with computers in creative production. Speculation turns to wholesale discount when we go into a binary mindset of either/or and do not hold on to the fact that there will always be designers sitting in chairs face-to-face having a dialog with another flesh and blood person. Tyler, I think this topic/thread is one that could use just such an approach. Want to have lunch?

Posted by Tony Brock on March 25, 2006 07:50 AM