A case for accidentally discovering some other things

Many of the essays in Michael Bierut’s Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design originally appeared at Design Observer, the group blog he co-edits.

The book opens with a cautionary piece, “Warning: May Contain Non-Design Content,” that should be required reading for practitioners of any art who believe it must be practiced and considered in a vacuum. To tide you over until you can track down the whole essay, here’s a passage cobbled together from the opening and closing paragraphs.

I write for a blog called Design Observer. Usually my co-editors and I write about design. Sometimes, we don’t. Sometimes, for instance, we write about politics. Whenever this happens, in come the commenters: “What does this have to do with design? If you have a political agenda please keep it the other pages. I am not sure of your leaning but I come here for design.”

I come here for design. It happens every time the subject strays beyond fonts and layout software. (“Obscure references … trying to impress each other… please, can we start talking some sense?”) In these cases, our visitors react like diners who just got served penne alla vodka in a Mexican restaurant: it’s not the kind of dish they came for, and they doubt the proprietors have the expertise to serve it up….

[T]he great thing about graphic design is that it is almost always about something else. Corporate law. Professional football. Art. Politics. Robert Wilson. And if I can’t get excited about whatever that something else is, I really have trouble doing good work as a designer. To me, the conclusion is inescapable: the more things you’re interested in, the better your work will be.

Bierut’s most recent Design Observer post is “Everything I Know About Design I Learned from The Sopranos.”


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