Opposites rarely attract

Here we go again. Professionals who should be working together – and who should know better – are allegedly at each other’s throats. The meeting of the British Design Initiative “only served to reinforce the huge rift between those with an engineering bent and the creative sparks who champion UK product design in the global arena” (Comment, DW 21 May).

When two people are scrapping on the street, or a husband and wife are arguing, a sure way to bring them together is for a complete outsider to interfere. So perhaps my comments will serve some purpose.

The editorial, sensibly, pleads for collaboration and mutual respect. Appreciating not merely the talent of the other party, but also the thinking which informs it is surely an essential characteristic of anyone involved in industrial design. What prevents this? Does excessive pride blind one from recognising the other?

Is specialisation the problem, the requirement to be known for a single skill? Practise more than one and it is assumed that you can’t really do any of them. Is too early specialisation the root? Either/or is endemic in this country. Children are streamed while still developing. Art or science? Both isn’t an option. CP Snow’s cultural divide begins early. The pigeonholes are carved out of solid oak.

People must need to be classified. In social intercourse: name first, occupation second. With the job comes characteristics. Before you know it you’ve been stereotyped. Artists aren’t practical. Engineers have no aesthetic sense. Accountants know only numbers. Business people aren’t creative.

Is advertising an art? Yes, say some, because it manifestly is not a science. Bedrock in science is prediction. Predicting the outcome of an ad campaign is notoriously difficult. Try to replicate a successful research exercise or even test market and you end up with egg on your face.

Science? No way. Ergo art. But, though it uses the tools and terminology of art, its purpose is not aesthetic satisfaction. Art moves. Advertising moves merchandise – or tries to. Enter advertising in order to create art and you are fooling yourself and those who employ you. Art may be a means of achieving a commercial end and art may be a by-product of the commercial end (eg posters on the wall of the Victoria and Albert Museum), but it’s not the purpose.

Art? Science? Either or neither? Actually, it’s both. Advertising is a bastard art in the middle of an inexact science. It begins with a science of sorts (eg research, media, planning) and then the bastard artist takes over (turning the prose of the brief into the poetry of an idea) and after the ad appears the inexact scientist returns to check the result.

What attracts people to advertising is precisely this amalgam of art and science. The artist is prepared to endure an interim period of bastardy before going pure, selling out or, in most cases, finding a genuinely creative challenge in advertising’s disciplines. The scientist is similarly challenged. He or she knows that if advertising is both an inexact science and a bastard art the only way forward is for it to attempt to become more scientific (since to become a pure art is profitless, literally).

Art: science. Form: function. Reason: emotion. Engineering: design. In all cases when faced with either/or ask “Why not both?” Challenge dichotomies, don’t succumb to them. It’s not a question of balance or compromise, of taking a middle position or playing both ends against the middle, but of relishing the dynamic tension between the components. Satisfying, for example, both head and heart. Or, in the organisation of creative talent, the recognition that both elements need to be satisfied and exist in a symbiotic relationship. A creative department (agency, design practice) is a disciplined anarchy. Too much of one or the other and the outfit goes out of business.

“Why not both?” is a question you’re dissuaded from asking at an early age. Attempt several occupations and you’re a “Jack of all trades”. Yet today one job for life becomes the exception. And, as Charles Handy advises, young people need to equip themselves with a “portfolio of careers”. Jack will master the new environment better than most.

And, finally, consider inventions. I want to change the TV channel, but I don’t want to leave the armchair. Why not both? (remote control). I want to go out, but I’m expecting a phone call. Why not both? (mobile phone). I want to go to the pub, but I don’t want to miss the match on television. Why not both? (video recorder). I want to make love to you, but I don’t want to start a family…

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