by Signify. Location: Paris, France
When I was in my first year of college, one of the first things my design professor, Michelle Bowers, taught our class was that we were, under no circumstances, to describe our work or explain why we were drawn to certain artwork by using the word, “cool” or simply saying, “I just like it.” There always had to be the accompaniment of rationale for why we appreciated something or why we did what we did, and how that made it attractive or successful. And same went for when we didn’t like something – we had to explain what didn’t work about the piece and describe how we felt it was unsuccessful. While art is subjective, there still has to be a reason for why we consider something either good or bad.
In saying this, I happened upon a good article on AIGA’s website by Steven Heller about this topic. Here is an excerpt I found that corresponds perfectly with what my professor instilled in us from Graphic Design 101:
Slang is to language as handwriting is to type; it is unofficial. Yet it often becomes [embedded] into everyday speech. Cool is certainly part of our shared Esperanto. It covers a multitude of concepts and emotions, the most common of which is high praise if indeed one is called “cool.” Unlike groovy, fab or gear, which sound positively antediluvian, cool never seems to go out of style. And still, cool does not convey the specificity necessary for making a viable crit in the classroom.
When Victore abruptly responded with “cool” in response to a curious student’s legitimate query, he broke the first rule of teaching. Rather than explain his rationale he relied on linguistic shorthand. Rather than examine motives that would prompt greater understanding, he used a code that, while imbued with common meaning, had no specific meaning. There had to be more to the image of that motorcycle than just its cool aesthetics, even though it was, for some, totally cool.
[You can read the full article here.]
How does this affect me professionally? I’ve had art directors tell me my work was “yummy” or “just not working” without giving any explanation as to why or why not. (I’ll insert here that I’ve also had some great art directors.) While they are great people, those comments weren’t beneficial for me as a designer. How was I supposed to grow without direction? Rather than acting as guides for me, they sometimes disappointed and frustrated me. Good art directors give good critiques, providing both positive and negative feedback as well as suggestions, and help the designer get the piece to a more successful place. With good guidance and intention, the design becomes more than “cool” – it has meaning and thought behind it.
Art (form and content) inspires conversation and reaction. If we treat it solely as eye candy, it pretty much defeats the purpose. So the next time you look at something and think, “wow, that’s really cool!” and leave it at that, imagine me wagging my pointer finger and raising an eyebrow. Gotta give me something more!