Image by Mitch Goldstein and Anne Jordan from walking.designcrit.com

The Dance

As someone who occasionally paints, I know that as the brush gets loaded with paint, as the canvas gets wet with pigment, colors begin to mix together in ways that are outside of my complete control. I find painting most interesting when it embraces this fortuity — it is at its best when dancing instead of marching in a straight and predictable line. We know from our color wheels that red and yellow will mix together into orange, but we cannot predict accurately how colors will mix when you start to add more tones that are randomly picked up by the brush, that sit on the support, that change opacity and translucency. There are painters who are very specific in their use of color, and do everything to control it precisely. It is when the painter reacts not to what is in their head, but to what is in front of them that painting changes from an act of translation, or an act of documentation, and becomes an act of response. It becomes the dance.

I wonder to myself if this is why I am constantly trying to avoid creating design inside the computer. I do not mean making design without the computer, but creating the design inside it: making design by pushing pixels around. Using the programmed and binary world of software to generate form and meaning. It is hard to dance inside the computer; it is much easier to march. This is why the computer is an incredibly useful tool, it does some things much better than a person does. The problem is all the things it does worse. I see design students picking up the computer as their first activity when embarking upon a new project; this worries me tremendously. The reality of graphic design today is that almost all of it will end in the computer, but it certainly does not need to start there.

The computer excels at constraint, but falls short at freedom. It acts as a safety blanket to students: they know they cannot really screw up too badly inside of InDesign once they know the rules. Unfortunately, screwing up badly, really fucking something up, is so often where it gets really interesting. Students are taught to be afraid of screwing up, of failing, of not succeeding in a design. This is one reason why I refuse to think of design as solving problems — because it presupposes that there are correct solutions. I do not think that failure is good, that failure is a goal to strive for; but I think accepting the possibility of failure makes the process more fun and begets more interesting results. In the same way accepting the inevitability of dying frees you to live your life; accepting the inevitability of ruining your design frees you to make more design.