In one of the annotations to my design manifesto, "Me, The Undersigned," I wrote somewhat sarcastically of the seriousness with which some of us view our profession by noting, "Design is probably not going to kill you if it falls on your head." (Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media and Visual Culture,
page 22.) A recent story by Tad Friend in The New Yorker
has made me want to reconsider this proposition.
Turns out one of the principal reasons why San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge remains one of the nation's premier suicide spots is due to the fact that no real barrier exists to prevent jumpers from carrying out a death wish. As Friend recounts, the controversy over erecting such a barrier has everything to do with nostalgia: "Matchless in its Art Deco splendor," he writes, "the Golden Gate is also unrivalled as a symbol: it is a threshold that presides over the end of the continent and a gangway to the void beyond." But it is also a design issue, with concerned members of a 19-member board citing reservations about the look of a fence against the legendary icon. "The most plausible reason for the board's resistance," notes Friend, "is aesthetics."
So maybe design isn't going to kill you if it falls on your head. But if YOU fall, design is not exactly going to save you, either....
Culture Is Not Always Popular
At a faculty meeting not long ago, a colleague of mine suggested that smart designers need to resist the impulse to over-intellectualize things, as though such efforts are counterproductive — if not entirely paralyzing — for the designer seeking to make work. Upon hearing this, I was immediately catapulted back to an episode in high school when a teacher suggested that in order to be more "popular," I might consider using fewer big words around my peers. Specifically, he noted, around boys