Start Stealing Sheep, Goats, Pigs and Everything Else You Can Get Your Hands On…
One of the trends I’ve noticed recently among my design students is their love of all design rules. Especially when I’m dishing out the latest assignment—they seem to crave the limitations and restrictions. It’s actually starting to worry me.
I like and understand the rules of design as much as the next designer—but in no way would I ever let them dominate my decisions when making work. For example, I have been taught and continue to teach my students to try at all costs to avoid stacking type. Most of us would agree that there is almost no really good reason to do it. It is difficult to read, it looks atrocious, it is even contradictory to the fundamental structural design of the type characters themselves, however, when I teach this rule and give my explanation on why, I simply get a bunch of okays and nodding heads. Every student is instantly in agreement with me and from henceforth they will never stack type again. And God have mercy on the soul of the student who forgets this rule, or wasn’t listening when I talked about it, and stacks type in a crit a few weeks later—because they will let into her. They’ll even lecture that student as to why she shouldn’t do it in the future, the same way that I did to them. That’s the condition of students these days in our design programs. They like the rules. They like to have order and they want to be told what to do.
Does this seem frightening to anyone else? I remember being taught this rule in my undergraduate studies and I also remember thinking at the time that there has to be some sort of exception. There has to be some time when it’s acceptable to stack type. I also remember thinking that in some design in the future I would have to try and pull it off successfully, even though I knew it was a huge design “no-no.” I think this is what a designer and artist should do. We are the agitators. We are the rule breakers. We are supposed to question and inspire. We are supposed to be the risk takers. So, what happened? How did design students get to be so “rule crazy?”
I imagine that there’s a certain comfort that comes from the rules. For some I guess it’s much easier to be ruled than to rule. Maybe they’re just not angry or aggressive as artists and designers. They all seem quite content with the “rules of design.” They like to keep quite, eat vanilla ice cream and shop at Wal-Mart.
Let’s take our old friend Comic Sans for instance. Like almost all designers I loathe this typeface. But I’ll be dammed if someone is going to tell me that I cannot use it in a sophisticated design problem. I know I could do it! It sure as hell wouldn’t be easy, but I refuse to accept a limitation or restriction like that. In fact, just thinking about it gets me so fired up that I want to take it on like a challenge—or a contest. Hey, wait, that might be a really great assignment. But, back to the matter at hand. There is some sort of urge or drive in my creative personality to be the visual spur in the side of society. I like it when old ladies have to read the “F” word. And no matter what psychologists and studies tell me, I refuse to believe the notion that seeing a photo of naked breasts will turn a child into a serial killer. During a recent critique I actually had one student questioning another student on why they chose to use 30 degree angles in their type assignment as opposed to 45 degrees. What the hell is going on here?!? This is maddening! I really had to take a calming breath before I addressed that student during that critique. There were so many more significant issues to resolve in that work than the degree angle of the type. I felt like a beet faced Winter Sorbeck (just check Google if you’ve never heard of him), ready to scream and flip-out on the spot.
Good design makes people think. And it certainly doesn’t do so by being safe, following all of the rules and blending in. The rules are good and they have their place but no rule is more important than making a good design.