An acquaintance of The Laboratory I met while in London that last time is a design consultant guy who told me this story about Eye Candy. Him and his studio/team were offered a commission of work. It was design work, or at least that was the premise of the offering. A high-profile team of well-meaning technologists of various stripes — engineers, engineer marketers, chest-thumping Valley types — were in the midst of preparing a presentation of some work to finance guys. The finance guys were, like.. money men who make decisions and were hopefully going to throw money at their project idea before they hopped off on their flying jet aeroplanes that I guess one of the hubris-y entrepreneur Valley guys actually flew, or used to fly as a fighter jock or something. ((You get the personality profile here.))
The engineer-y team had some ideas that basically took a very hot trend and doubled and tripled it — the up-and-to-the-right extrapolation of today and made it *more..which I understood to mean not necessarily better…just more of the thing that exists today. Maybe two or three buttons instead of one; or 7 inches instead of 3.5 inches and we’ll blow the competition out of the water. Something. It might’ve been something like making quad axle wheels for luggage, or a tablet with a car battery so it lasts a full *week without a recharge or something. I have no idea, but this is the image that comes to mine for the story I heard. Well-meaning, but not well-thought-through stuff.
Anyway, the guy who the engineers approached is a guy with a depth and breadth of design experience. He’s a creative guy, and his studio has a really good sense of strategy and ways of communicating..and he can make stuff for real, like — model making; deep CAD expertise, mechanical and electronic prototypes. Really incredibly thoughtful, experienced guy and as I understand it, a designer with integrity who would turn something down based on his instinct about whether or to what degree the work will build his credibility as a designer and that credibility is directly tied to how much the work will make things better. He’d be the last to do something that’d just be landfill fodder, or work that is, like — just poorly thought-through, or lacking in depth and consideration.
And then here come these entrepreneur-engineer guys who I was told asked integrity-designer guy to help them with their presentation by giving them some “eye candy” to put in the PowerPoint. This went on for half a day. The engineer-y team shared their idea and then explained that they had this pressing meeting coming up and — would his studio be able to just pull something out of their inventory of cool physical models and CAD renderings to put into the presentation deck? What they needed, they said — was Eye Candy. Some seductive treats on their dessert cart of a good idea that would have the finance-y jet pack guys licking their chops, slobbering capital all over the models.
Even in retelling this story, my brow perspires from frustration because – I know the tendency to consider the work of design as either providing cool looking stuff absent the integrity of its intent; or thinking of design as styling to the point of absurdity.
But — what’s the big deal? Why *not make some eye candy? I mean, if it satisfies the eyes and makes people ooh-and-aah, isn’t that a good thing? People don’t ooh-and-ahh about something they don’t like, and making people ooh-and-ahh is a goal in some entertainment circles, so — what gives? Why does this story make my head want to explode all over the place?
Well, firstly — it’s a bad precedent for design, generally speaking, if I can speak for “design” for a moment. It’s design without integrity, in the service of surface glitz and glam. It’s design that only exists on the surface, like styling that says not too much about the intent. It lacks thinking beyond the “what looks good” sort of thinking. It’s *thin — you can’t dig into the thing itself because there is nothing behind it except a desire to wow someone. There’s no logic or reasoning behind it, except to wow someone. It’s pure Id, pure instinct — not that instinct is something that should not inspire design, but by itself it’s selfish in a way. It accounts for nothing but what something looks like, rather than the larger context of where, when, why, for what.
In a word, just doing something to pad a page in a presentation or to put on a table is dishonest. Pulling something from another project out of a drawer that *looks like it could be the thing these guys were trying to sell, is dishonest. There’s no integrity — you can’t tell the story of this thing and why it has come to be or what principle informs the action or contours or IxD of the thing. You have to lie, basically. Or not say anything about it at all which makes one wonder — why put it there to begin with.
No, right? That’s just a bad way of going about things. It’s not quite as bad as industrial designers making toothbrushes that look like they should be moving fast because they *really wish they were designing cars, but it’s pretty bad to do eye candy designs on their own when such eye candy would be disconnected from the initial vision. Or even question that initial vision by running a more proper, considered design process that *might lead to something with integrity, and with the satisfaction of being complete and thorough. Something that would be the result of a superlative, principle-led design practice. And that takes time — or at least more time than digging around for something that looks like it could belong to the idea these guys had.
Why do I blog this? It’s a good story, with a good lesson in it. Integrity is crucial for design to continue doing what it’s able to do. Eye candy is dishonest and lacks the integrity that connects it to good, thoughtful work. And it means the work is crap, poorly considered and fails to make things better. It’s the equivalent of doing design “’cause” — or worse.