February 2, 2018
Why really nice people make a mess of things
As a designer, one of my worst enemies has been the "really nice person". And by that, I mean a sociable person whose goal is to make sure that everyone is happy, everyone has their say, there's consensus on decisions, and that all that really matters is how everyone feels. I often refer to these people as the "standing in a group holding hands and singing".
People like me call this "design by committee" and it's the main reason that so many things are just plain awful, like terrible movies. That is not to say that a good movie could be created by accident, by just making everyone who was involved with it feel good, but usually it's a recipe for disaster. Movies, like all creative things, do better when done with a clear vision, by someone who nice people would consider having a huge ego.
As a commercial artist, I tried to understand both purity of design, and the reality of how things have to happen in the real world, and I did fine. I've known a lot of creative people who are much purer than me, and they can't stand the process of having a meeting, to conduct a meeting, to get people together, to get input from everyone, etc. to make a mess of things.
I've been lucky, as I've known many people who could see both sides of things. That is, they could see purity of design, but they also understand people. I call these people my "big protectors". They would go to meetings and sooth jangled nerves, and listen attentively, and do their best to get my designs pushed through without them being messed up. In a long career, those were wonderful moments for me. Mostly I would do my best, submit the design, and despair at the changes that the committee wanted, so that everyone could feel good.
Most people can only see their extreme end of things. I find that my friends who are more purists in art wonder how in the world I could subject myself to the people who destroy with best intentions. I simply say "it's how I made money". And I did make a living doing graphic design. I did thousands of designs, and the handful of the ones that didn't "go through the ringer" I remember. I'm glad that I didn't have to go to the meetings where my work was critiqued by people who had no idea what good or bad design was. It makes me cringe just to think of it. But I understand, they held the purse strings.
Nowadays I'm still a big believer in aesthetics. That is, simply the admiration of beauty. I see beauty everywhere, in design, in landscaping, in cars, in a beautiful woman. If you don't, that's fine, it really isn't the most important thing that humans do - they need to make money, care for their family. Art comes long after all of the utilitarian things are taken care of, like a flower planted on the edge of a vegetable garden.
But I do believe that everyone needs to live with beauty in their lives, whether they admit to it or not. Good design makes the world more beautiful, and that's the main reason that I love it.
Posted by Brad Hall