Chatting with: Eli Schiff
Designer and divisive design critic Eli Schiff chats with Great Technology Story.
GTS: <lights cigarette> <takes a pull> <cigarette isn’t lit correctly–relights and takes another pull> <exhales> So design, eh?
ELI SCHIFF: Yep, most laymen think “design” means graphic or visual design. Designers at large, including visual designers, want design to be everything. Well, they’re technically right. But then, of course, it’s nothing.
I much prefer that lowercase d “design” be interpreted colloquially as a visual form than be seen so broadly as to be meaningless.
GTS: Draw a rectangle, give the corners a radius. Write ‘Next’ inside it. How many buttons can one man or woman make before killing themselves…
ELI SCHIFF: About 12,765 buttons will force someone to take his own life, according to well-sourced mortality figures. The other option is going into management — but I repeat myself.
GTS: What’s your favourite hex code bro?
ELI SCHIFF: So this is what’s happening. You’re forcing me to pick a favorite color. I’ll tell you what — according to Google, “there are no wrong colors.” Just think about that for a second.
GTS: You’re right, that was bad. Was going for ‘ironically bad questions to ask a designer’. But it was just bad. Ok… You present your design solution. There’s some devs also in the meeting. That one dev, the problem one, he goes, “Don’t like it. Is that really the colour we’re using?” And someone else goes “Yeah agree. Is that the colour?” How do you respond?
ELI SCHIFF: I’d say, “I don’t appreciate the speculation about this color. It’s doing a fine job — I strongly support it.”
GTS: And someone else says, “We should actually A/B test the colours. Because we have no idea unless we test them.”
ELI SCHIFF: I’d tell them straight: “I listen to all voices. But mine’s the final decision. And this color is doing a fine job. I have strong confidence in this color. I hear the voices. I know the speculation. But I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best. And what’s best is for this color to remain as this color.”
GTS: Do you ever have soul-crushing realisations that none of it matters? But you have all these followers now telling you they love what you’re doing so you have to keep going.
ELI SCHIFF: Hardly. Nothing else matters. Design is life and death.
GTS: Some of your tweets to other designers <laughs> <coughs on cigarette smoke>. Brutal.
ELI SCHIFF: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
GTS: Have you ever publicly apologised?
ELI SCHIFF: I have made retractions, yes. That’s called having standards. But no public apologies. Public apologies are for masochists and enslaved men.
GTS: You ever felt bad? Like, you went after a designer who took it particularly badly? And you’re like <bites fist>
ELI SCHIFF: I’ve felt bad for a few people insofar as their design work at a global corporation thrust them well beyond their Dunbar number and into my sphere of public criticism. That’s just how the internet works though.
GTS: You’re the Milo Yiannopoulos of the design world. No I’m kidding. Hmm, actually am I? Are you?
ELI SCHIFF: Milo Yiannopoulos is a degenerate. That said, I’ve heard it’s circulating in various design Slacks that I take baths in pig’s blood. These rumors are gross exaggerations.
GTS: You know I spoke to him once. Before he was famous. We had a mutual friend. He said some dumb shit. I said “Your problem is that you’re half intelligent but half not.” He went nuts. Called me ‘doughy’. Like, my body shape. I’m pretty slim.
ELI SCHIFF: That’s pretty sad because being half-intelligent is actually a compliment. It was likely projection.
GTS: Can you ever be bothered to use a font that isn’t Helvetica? Like the client is asking for a font, and it’s like who fucking cares. Helvetica.
ELI SCHIFF: First off, Helvetica is a very versatile and functional typeface, I highly recommend it. I mean look at Experimental Jetset. They use it all the time, and they’re geniuses.
In seriousness, everything that’s possible to say about Helvetica has been said, so I’m probably not adding much here. But Helvetica is the definition of convention. Which opens up the possibility to use it ironically, sincerely, or out of ignorance. Using it out of ignorance is more than fine in my book. Just make it look cool. It does a lot of the work for you.
GTS: Yeah that’s what I mean. Helvetica = the job’s done for you. Unless you’re gonna drop like 250k having a custom typeface designed then fucking don’t worry about it. How does Eli Schiff relax?
ELI SCHIFF: Doing some heavy lifts, cooking up a steak, sipping ice-cold water and arguing with random internet people about design.
GTS: Sketch or XD? Wait, boring… Did you ever use QuarkXPress? Throwback to no undos.
ELI SCHIFF: Sounds like a nightmare. Seems I was spared. But hey, you know Sketch doesn’t have a history panel. We live in a great future.
GTS: I feel like your first computer was a PC. Is that true? You have that ‘first computer was a PC’ type of designer vibe about you. No offence.
ELI SCHIFF: You know me all too well. WindowBlinds, ObjectDock, DeviantArt and MacThemes made that survivable.
GTS: Knew it. What are your future goals? Authorship?
ELI SCHIFF: My writing will return. That’s not a long term goal, if all goes right.
GTS: Thoughts on the tech world in general? And the twitter pantomime that surrounds it.
ELI SCHIFF: If China ever supplants the Valley, it’ll be way less entertaining, but better for everyone. A Sinofuture is our only hope.
GTS: Do you ever think about quitting? Opening a cafe? A kinda creative cafe/workspace. Nice branding. Get a few of them off the ground? Make something *real*. Damn, that would be nice wouldn’t it. Making a real and tangible fucking thing. Shit, you up for it?
ELI SCHIFF: You know, I once worked for that exact cafe. You might have heard of it: Panera Bread. As a worker it’s pleasant enough. There’s certainly much more dignity than tech work — though accordingly less pay.
That said, coffee shops are a weird liminal space. You leave the house in order to deny your apartment-confined atomized existence. You surround yourself with 20 other people who are all wearing headphones and staring at their screens. And then you’re not supposed to talk to each other — after all, that’d be unprofessional. Modernity has been a disaster for the human race.