Designers Who Read

Living in the Cult of Likability by Bret Easton Ellis

1344 words
8 mins
Originally published 8/12/2015

Welcome to the first post of Designers Who, Season 2!

This article easily opens up a discussion about branding and brand reputation, but what really interested me was its idea of an unmanageable authenticity — not only as a selling or communication tool, but as a way to inform all aspects of a business and its brand.

Online trolling exists in the false assumption that publication lends legitimacy. So does a brief; a project; a client's request. Because of this, we are taught that designers double as editors, and that we need to cut away all that is an expression of ego — our client's, and our own. We have learned that we need to invigilate the line between aspiration and authenticity. Yet Ellis' article suggests that this needn't be so.

Ellis writes that authenticity is the only useful currency for a business, and authenticity means being both liked and disliked, as a way of expressing legitimate value. Ellis describes this as having to embrace our “messy, contradictory” selves, to not celebrate our virtues only. I am adding that this might represent some real, compelling foundations for strong, confident brands, from which their actions and communications are informed.

Our processes teach us to empathise and listen, but to also simplify, edit and control. Can we do our jobs, while understanding the value in the impassioned, the unmanageable? Can we let go of the idea of constant comfort, and find compelling value in chaos?

Read the article.

Reader discussion

Jan. 15, 2016, 1:25 p.m.— Thought,maybe

I'm interested in how things can look, feel and be, when they are not so acutely managed. Can design work be a template of all the detrius that a company created? The organic weeds and flowers that pop up, out of their control?

Think of how objects and brands are "hacked". Coke bottles litter our oceans, they also are used as makeshift lampshades in shanty towns.

American Apperal has fallen victim (but it isn't the only factor of its downfall) of a previous un-PC CEO. What if his attitude had been used to inform radical store policies (within non-sexist boundaries), or used to encourage a culture of unapologetic outspokenness?

I am running off thoughts without fully thinking them through, but there is something in the idea of sweeping up messiness, or uncontrollable/uncontrived elements of a brand only some of the time.

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