Sunday, May 2, 2010
Michael Chabon is high on my list of favorite authors, not only for his novels but also for his numerous essays. At the moment, I am attempting to emulate his nonfiction style in a writing assignment. It has become a bit of an uphill battle, which I think is understandable just from reading opening sentences of this piece:
"There may never again be a tedium so wretched and marvelous as that produced by television in the heyday of the aerial. It’s a cliché act of contemporary parenthood to inform one’s children—in our endless parental quest to engender in them that nameless emotion, the inverse of awe, whose purest expression is embodied by the four timeless words Who gives a shit?—that when one was a boy there were only three channels, or four, or at most five."
So, in trying to get a grip of how the heck this man comes up with such grandiose sentences about something as mundane as vintage television, I started looking up interviews with Chabon and stumbled upon the above Youtube clip. Rather than just inspire my essay, Chabon has unwittingly managed to sum up my viewpoint on research and design.
Chabon talks about two things that I think have become really important to me in my design education: always research something that interests you personally and also show that you have authority with what you are talking about. Research (or, more broadly termed, knowledge) has become the single most important thing in my design education. In every project brief I'm given I tend to find a niche, some part of the topic that I sparks my creativity, and then I latch onto it for dear life and spend the next few weeks (or months) becoming an expert in that field. I read every book, every blog, every newspaper and then move onto interview and observation. I read, I write, I just plain think about the topic as much as possible before even delving into the final "what" of the piece (what it will do, what it will look like).
Even though he's talking about authority in terms of fiction, the same holds true of design. By becoming the expert, the designer has full authority of their design and the client has full trust in the designer. As readers, we generally give an author only one chance to "wow" us. The first novel we read is the most important because if we like it we'll buy more and if we don't, odds are we will never read another word from this person. If, as Chabon points out, the writer exercises their authority then we the readers know we are in good hands and we'll probably want more. It's the same with design: without that meticulous research, the design falls short and the client is let down, probably never to return. The design didn't "wow" the client because the designer did have the authority to back it up.
So that's where I stand at the moment: inspired by a novelist to pursue better design through knowledge and research, so that my future clients will know they are in good hands.