Brain Pickings

Popular Lies About Graphic Design

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Debunking the misconceptions, half-truths, and dangerous mythology of creativity.

“Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking,” Susan Sontag famously wrote in her private rant against intellectual shorthand. And yet, young creators starting out are bombarded with aphorisms and simple mantras to which to adhere, without much questioning. While there might be tremendous value in learning how to think like a great graphic designer, the operative word is still “think.” In Popular Lies About Graphic Design (UK; public library), New-York-based British designer Craig Ward sets out to debunk the “misconceptions, half truths and, in some cases, outright lies” embedded in the familiar aphorisms and maxims instilled in young designers — a crusade against putting blind religion rather than critical thought at the heart of the discipline. From myths about work ethic to the cult of ideas, Ward tackles 35 such “lies” with all the deftness of a proper devil’s advocate.

For instance, he takes head-on the contention that nothing is truly original — an idea famously championed by Mark Twain (“…all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources…”) and Lord Byron (“To be perfectly original one should think much and read little, and this is impossible, for one must have read before one has learnt to think.”). Ward writes:

The human brain is a wondrous and infinitely complex organ, its capabilities and limits still, as yet, undefined. When fed the right combination of inspiration points a well educated, well read, hydrated and healthy brain will come up with original idea after original idea.

With its aesthetic minimalism and conceptual clarity, Popular Lies About Graphic Design manages to walk the challenging line between being critical without being complacently contrarian.

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