The heart of deception

Why do we live in a dream world, caught in a vicious circle of self-deception which the media creates and designers fall prey to? Janice Kirkpatrick thinks it’s time we wised up, burst the bubble and started to focus on reality and innovation rather than

It’s British Summertime again – the season of sun, sportswear, soap powder, sunglasses, sports cars and glamourous Italian trade fairs. Oh, how I wish I could live in a magazine myth. I thumb through glossy pages and leaf through lifestyle supplements which construct the zipless illusion that everyone lives in a better world than poor old me. I’m a creative person and creative people are supposed to live in whacky, expensive pads, have matching blonde-haired kids and hang out with zany people with names like Zowie. I am an outcast in a world of my own creation, I suppose I must have disenfranchised myself.

As usual, I’m alone in the studio at some grey and unholy hour. It’s raining outside. I’m surrounded by greasy Macs while the music of William Orbit struggles to obscure yesterday’s debris and the entrance of the office cleaner looms some two hours hence. It would be so easy to snuggle up with a copy of The Face, Elle Decoration or Blueprint and dream of an ideal world, maybe even one I would create myself if I had the time, money, patronage, support and understanding of my colleagues, the tax-man, the planning department or manufacturers. No, my ideal world is definitely not going to happen without some concentrated effort on my part.

My admiration really goes out to the likes of Tom Dixon and Michael Young, who try to make their ideal worlds become realities. I like designers who struggle to make myths into real objects and spend chunks of time putting a few useful links in the vast global design infrastructure which allows creativity to find useful outlets through manufacturing and distribution rather than floundering dangerously on the pages of pretty, coffee table magazines.

One only need examine the statistics to see that there are a lot more graphic designers than product designers and that advertising agencies make more money than all of us put together. It’s a fact that creative individuals find it easier to create images of their aspirations rather than build the realities. We are a dreamy lot.

However, I am assured that this is normal behaviour in a country which believes that publishing pornography doesn’t lead to rape or television violence to crime or glossy images of utopian perfection to disillusionment, apathy and menopausal crisis.

All of us know how photography is constructed, how studio sets are built and myths are created, but we persist in believing those myths we ourselves create. Publishing skews our sense of reality like an electoral map of the world. It willfully seeks out an armoury of perfect images, it frames and eulogises inscrutable individuals, selectively constructing “Henry, the portrait of a serially successful designer”, an impossible act to follow. Now and then we too have a chance to stand in the spotlight and tell-it-how-it-is, but the media machinery requires that we hedge and pose rather than risk our second of fame.

The pertinent fact in all of this is that creative people do it for others and often don’t find the time or energy to do it for themselves. All too often designers are duped into believing myths of their own creation rather than treating the press with a healthy degree of suspicion. After all, if we don’t understand what’s really going on and we’re designing the stuff, what does the rest of the unsuspecting world believe?

I think designers live too often through publishing. Art school students dissect each new publication, from Emigré to Ray Gun, Booth Clibborns to Domus, all in search of the Holy Grail: the ingredient that will secure fame and success. Energy that should be spent in developing unique references and personal vocabularies is wastefully squandered in skillful reworkings of someone else’s ideas, a bit like the atelier or the medieval scriptorium.

Maybe it’s just a symptom of our time where we want instant solutions, instant successes and to hell with patience, commitment and long-term anything. It certainly makes for a very dull creative portfolio if designers from Teeside to Toronto are doing Tomato. It’s easier and faster to create an image rather than the physical reality, but it’s really the coffee table and not the magazine that desperately needs our attention.

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