November 07, 2005

Let’s make something terrible together

I was chatting this morning with some guys from the Illustrator team, batting around ideas for a fairly sexy feature they’ve been considering. They were thinking, naturally and appropriately as software designers do, about how to make the feature accurate, fast, and intuitive. The product manager in me said “right on”; the designer in me said “ugh.”
The point has been made many times, but computers’ tendency towards the predicable, the literal, and the repeatable often isn’t a recipe for good design, much less good art. Yes, being able to execute each step more and more quickly lets you try more things & potentially take more risks. But doesn’t it seem that it tends strongly towards a “right” answer, producing designs that look tastefully bland? Happy accidents grow rare.
I thought of this several weeks ago during a typography session at Photoshop World Boston. The speaker listed, and hundreds of attendees dutifully scribbled down, which fonts were considered hot and which were not. I can dig that people don’t want to look foolish, but I found the whole exercise kind of repellent. I left the session wanting to make some killer design using that beaten-down, forlorn face my wife calls “the yacht club font,” which suffered death by misuse on 6,000,000 soft-focus ’70s paperback covers. Well dammit, I thought, all you trendies can go off and rock out with Eurostile (condemning it to be the Bookman Swash of the future) or whatever; I’m gonna make the yacht club fresh. I’ll do something so terrible it’s great.
So back to the point at hand: this Illustrator feature had a sort of “give me tasteful” button. Yeah, but how about “gimme awful,” I wondered. And gimme random. I mean, we’re the company that registered SmashStausQuo.com. How about we actually do it? We need more offbeat, playful, bizarre functionality–only when you want it, to be sure, but there to introduce some chance, some chaos, some creative destruction.
And I’ll bet that by willing to embrace the terrible, we all just might make something great.
J.
[Thanks to Thomas Phinney for immediately knowing the name of "that swoopy '70s paperback font," as I described it.]

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