Lauren Sargent

Design is Adult’s Play

This week I absorbed two Ted talks by famous graphic designers who have done work for the The Met Opera, Quicksilver and more. I’m not sure if this was how it was meant to be taken, but to me the two speakers seemed like two ends of a scale but they both agreed on one thing: design should have a degree of freedom and play in it. The first speaker, Paula Scher, talked about her experiences with doing what she called “serious work” and how it became monotonous and codified “solemn work” when it was popularized or ordered by companies. This concept was hard for me to wrap my head around with the way she described it. I understand that the sanctity and freedom of creating whatever art you want, whenever and however you want, is something special and important, but she made it seem like if her work was popular or successful, she began to resent creating it. Don’t artists want to be successful and have notoriety for their work? How, then, are we supposed to balance being a successful creator while also keeping ourselves from becoming solemn? She didn’t provide the answer to that, which explains why she seemed to still be running into pockets of solemn work as an adult creator.

Actual footage of my face trying to process Scher’s TEDtalk.

What I did like from her talk though, was the way she described serious play. I think the word “serious” being in the title is a mistake that can make capturing it and accomplishing it difficult but the idea is nice. She talked of work that is no meant to be perfect, that is made purely for the sake of trying. It pushes boundaries and approaches prompts and creative ideas with an almost overconfident naivete that pays off. Every design is an opportunity, every design is The One that you put your heart and soul into. That is how I understood her concept of serious play and it’s these notes that I will keep with me as a guideline for design work, rather than her lecture on how getting paid and being asked to make something people enjoy and want from you destroys the joy of your work.

David Carson’s talk was a lot more enjoyable to me. He doesn’t take his work overly seriously or view it as a burden on his life. Although the talk is obviously dated, the things he showed and topics he spoke on seemed timeless and almost especially relevant now (especially that keyboard plate). I took two big ideas from what he talked about. The first is that in a world that is increasingly tech focused, there is a growing importance of people. He said that design work has to have personality and some of your own flavor and humanity in it. I find this to be true. When we are oversaturated with automation and technology, it’s tempting to go with templates and easy shortcuts that result in robotic or sterile aesthetics. That’s why I believe graphic design is such a trendy and prosperous area of work now. People are looking for designs that have a life, inspiration and ingenuity.

This would go viral today and you know it.

The second point is what I think separated him from the parts of Scher’s talk that were sour to me. He said, “If you could afford to — if money wasn’t an issue — would you be doing that same work? And if you would, you’ve got a great job. And if you wouldn’t, what the heck are you doing? You’re going to be dead a really long time.” For me, Scher seemed like she’d been dead off and on again for years. If you’re not doing what is fulfilling for you and making you happy, why are you doing it? And if you’re doing it strictly for the money, there’s nothing wrong with that either but you have to know there is a give and take with what comes with successful art.

Finally, seeing Canva be introduced to our class was a happy moment for me for sure! I’ve used Canva for a few years now as a free and easy substitute for a lot of PhotoShop skills and I completely recommend it. It’s great for design and can make even the most rudimentary user’s work look professional and beautiful. I sound like a walking ad for them, they should sponsor me. I look forward to using it for nice layouts both in this class and in my future careers.

For my design work, I’m definitely siding with David Carson’s approach to design, with a little influence from Scher’s serious play philosophy. I want to inject a lot of myself into my design work and make it pleasing to the idea, but also have fun and push boundaries. That’s why I would like to refrain from using Canva’s templates as much as possible and work more from my own heart and blank templates. With these guidelines in mine, I hope to create original visuals for you all to enjoy!

1 thought on “Design is Adult’s Play”

  • “How, then, are we supposed to balance being a successful creator while also keeping ourselves from becoming solemn” I think this is exactly the question that she is grappling with in the talk, and I’m not sure there are any simple answers. The only answer I feel like she gives is that creative people need to constantly be seeking out new kinds of challenges to keep themselves from becoming too solemn.

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