On 'Design & Humour'

Dialogues

10th April 2020
by Paul Woods

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Dialogues is a series of articles capturing opinions, conversations and discourse relating to design theory & practice. In the first edition of this new series, Garech Stone looks for the humour in Irish design and comes up short. In response, Paul Woods suggests this isn't a uniquely Irish problem, and that as designers move into the digital space, personality is being left behind too.

Read the original post here.

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Let’s be clear, I’m extremely biased here. This author is someone who has been a self-confessed fanboy for the work of The Stone Twins for over a decade, and for all the reasons outlined in Garech’s piece. As a student that wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to be a designer or an adman, their work embodied a rare balance between function and personality, form and message. 

Humor is an integral part of the Irish personality, and in this author’s opinion, a huge differentiator in creative output of any kind. However, upon reading Garech's piece it brought to mind an even broader question beyond humor: Where has personality of any kind gone in the design industry in recent years?

Over the past decade, designers have increasingly been moving into the space of digital product design. As such, much of the focus of their work has gone from designing a message, to designing frames, systems and containers that are built to hold a message. Our layouts become filled with gray boxes and fake headlines, and we care less about personality, expression and the message itself. Isn’t this just “content”? Come on, that’s someone else's job—the content strategist, the copywriter or the intern, right? Wrong. And it is this author’s opinion that one of the driving reasons for the lack of personality in many areas of modern design is this disconnection between design and content. 

The written word is a skill and one that is frequently missing from the modern designer’s toolbox. In the digital age where job descriptions in the design industry become increasingly niche with every passing day—product designer, interface designer, visual designer, content strategist, who-the-fuck-cares-designer—our responsibilities become narrower and narrower, and the “soft skills”, such as writing, have fallen out of our purview.

This hasn’t always been the case. Ad agencies have always revered writers as the driving force in the creative process, responsible for the conceptual heavy lifting. However, design agencies—specifically digital design agencies—rarely hold writers in the same regard. When we live in a world where content is king, the designer that doesn’t understand how to create a message isn’t doing themselves any favors.

Are we missing personality in design today? Probably. Is this specific to Irish design? Definitely not. But given our nation’s rich history as purveyors of the written word, perhaps we should hold ourselves to a higher standard and embrace not just designing the system, but designing the message itself. 

P.S. But let’s not forget about humor either. After all, the world is serious enough as it is.

 

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Paul Woods is a Los Angeles-based designer, writer and illustrator. He leads Edenspiekermann‘s US design and technology teams as CEO / CCO, building products, brands, and service design work for clients in industries as diverse as editorial, sustainability, and transportation. 

In his spare time, Paul is an illustrator and co-founder of the satirical industry website Adloids. His best-selling debut book, How To Do Great Work Without Being An Asshole was released in 2019 translated in 8 languages, published by Laurence King.

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