Designers Who Read

You’ll Never Guess the Amazing Ways Online Design Writing and Criticism Has Changed by Chappell Ellison

1750 words
10 mins
Originally published 6/3/2014

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Design criticism: it's a funny, multi-layered, self-referential world. Every decade or so, there is a renewed call for recognising its importance. It has a close-knit group of disciples that are as small as they are dedicated. And it publishes many articles about itself.

Ellison's article is an articulation of the shifting attitudes towards design criticism that I have noticed from an editorial position. Strongly encouraged to achieve web traffic results, a writer must use SEO formulas, and using them means writing about design with keywords based on mass misunderstandings, or broken terminology, popular in Google searches. This means articles use clunky descriptions like "logo identity designs" or "logo brands" as if they were legitimate terms. And if they are used enough, they eventually will be legitimate.

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Reader discussion

Jan. 5, 2016, 10:51 p.m.— Bonnie

@Julian - the last line of your comment. Spot on.

Jan. 5, 2016, 3:59 p.m.— Julian

Jump around a bit, but here are some thoughts.

There’s no arguing that there has been an influx of badly written, click-bait driven design articles in the last few years. However, I don’t think this threatens design writing and criticism. The only thing it threatens is the ego of the designer who romanticises about a time when being a designer felt exclusive.

There are definitely questions that arise from this type of content, but keep in mind that design is more accessible than ever. Isn’t that what we have been striving for? I believe good design content is still being produced, perhaps more than ever, it’s just there’s a lot more of everything now. What I find so great about this age of information accessibility is that one can take an interest in fields and disciplines outside of their own so easily. These new found interests have undoubtably helped—and continue to help—me grow as a designer. I'm no longer restricted to what ideas are being circulated by my peers.

Jan. 4, 2016, 12:30 p.m.— Kate

I don't know if this is slightly off topic, but in response to Mags, Steve Heller once said the same thing to me (I am not name-dropping, I swear)

I complained, as someone who was learning about design criticism, that there were few places for its publication. He argued that if I wanted to communicate to people about design, don't preach to the choir (in design journals, etc), but write accessible design articles for mainstream media. That's were you make a difference.

Jan. 2, 2016, 3:21 p.m.— Mags@work

"It is my fear than in our exuberance to embrace online publishing, we’re forgetting to use these same tools for the betterment of the design discipline, for starting our own conversations. We no longer have to worry about how, where or if design writing will be published — the audience and outlets exist. What we do have to worry about, however, is that the community that produces this work continues to feel supported, inspired, and connected."

Doesn't it depend on who the design writer is writing for?

Design writers writing for design writers are well catered for, so we don't need to worry about them. But what about informing the non-design public about compelling contextual ideas and stories that surround them? Or the design writing that crosses with other philosophies and profession fields, the way Works That Works do? Or immensely popular podcasts like 99PI? This is what needs to be celebrated — it is this type of writing that grows the community. The writing Ellis is talking about is insular and exclusive.

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