Who cares about good design? What difference does it make?
The world is cluttered with stuff. Stuff that you can buy at a 99 cent store or at a luxury outlet in SoHo. And virtual stuff, like news and web pages and apps and and posts (like this one). Human beings have mastered mass production to the extent that every year there are exponentially more things, and they just keep getting cheaper and easier to produce.
A friend of mine introduced me to an executive this week that runs an internet startup that produces informational web pages by the millions. They hire students in India to type up reports on just about any subject, post the pages and optimize for Google, then drop in advertising. Apparently they figured out how to skim enough money out of ads to make a profit.
I wasn’t very polite in my reaction — “so you’re one of the assholes that’s ruining the internet.” Everyone laughed nervously and my friend coughed.
When an industrialized society gets to the point where its means of production is so efficient that it can churn out near infinite amounts of mass produced garbage, virtual or real, evolution should point towards (a) feeding and housing everyone who isn’t fed and housed and (b) quality of life. Reality being what it is, it’s often used instead to figure out how to make even thinner plastics for packaging.
I’m a capitalist to the extent that I’m good at it and it has served me spending my life making beautiful things. And, contrary to what the more right wing market-driven capitalists will have us believe, culture really does matter. Humans are not consumption machines by nature, we have just been trained to be that way. It’s like a bad habit. Conversely, we can train ourselves and by extension the people around us to live better, too. And nowadays living better often means living less.
Now that we have the time and resources to do so, let’s make GREAT things. Let’s write great things, and let’s build great things, and make great art, and let’s make our world better, not just make it more and more.
Good design is an investment in quality. It is the process of refining and refining until the final product is exceptional (like the vintage Fiat 600 van pictured above, spotted in East Hampton this past weekend by my good friend Nicholas Callaway. I’m not big on cars, but if I had to own one, this is the one for me.) This holds equally for real products and virtual ones. A good haiku has less than 140 characters. Twitter, mostly misused, is the 99 cent store of culture.
Good design is the antidote. It generally costs more, and takes a lot more effort, which is a good thing. A German carpenter has an apprenticeship period that takes as long as getting an American medical degree.
Even more importantly, we appreciate things we make sacrifices for. Paying more for something, or waiting for it to be completed (by an artisan, by hand) is a form of sacrifice.
When we work a bit harder to make something nice, or craft something longer that is worth reading, this means there will be less things altogether, a very good thing all around.
— Paul Budnitz, Aug 18 2012