Sometimes, design isn’t even the answer.

So I watched 5 Conversations on Design…two more than required and approximately 25 less than I would have watched if every single video didn’t have a buffering issue. Sorry Motley, I let the technology win, but sometimes you just have to know when to fold ’em.

I randomly decided to watch the clips of Michael Lebowitz, Ze Frank, Deborah Adler, Chip Kidd, and homegirl Paula Scher to get their insights on two questions: 1). What single example of design inspires you most? and 2). What problem should design solve next? Interesting responses and ZERO overlap between all of them. I imagine I would have found more recurrent themes amongst the answers from each designer had I not wanted to rip my eyeballs out dealing with a video that sounded like my Backstreet’s Back CD skipping around as I jump up and down in my room dancing to “Everybody” (throwback to the 9o’s!). So anyway, here’s a brief synopsis of each:

Michael Lebowitz // Founder and CEO, Big Spaceship

  • Question 1 (design inspiration question if you have slight amnesia or inability to pay attention to things you’ve read): iPad and the changes that it represents. Another +1 to Steve Jobs. Lebowitz comments on the intuitiveness of the iPad and other technology today…it is a testament to just how natural and “human” our technology has become (although if you study my dad, you may be swayed to believe technology is anything but).
  • Question 2 (problem design should solve): How to create context and order out of the vast quantity of the information we have generated and stored at a tremendous velocity. We need to create meaning out of data. Check out my earlier blog post for thoughts on this idea.

Ze Frank // Public Speaker

  • Question 1: Jane McGonigal makes a comeback! Can’t get away from her. Despite having a hard time talking about design, Ze Frank talks about his fascination with social design (i.e., social games like “Werewolf”) that make you leverage the relationships you already have, re-evaluate what you think; how to take advantage of the complexity of our social interactions.
  • Question 2: Design should solve all problems. Even design should be redesigned. Art should be designed, religion, dinner conversations…”everything should be exposed to the process of being interested.” We should explore the concept of many-to-one design where a lot of people come together to solve one particular problem in a single person’s life. Is this possible? Is it beneficial? Could help us pay more attention to the world we live in.

Deborah Adler // Deborah Adler LLC

  • Question 1: La Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica because of the raw emotion that it invokes. We should strive to look for that in design work. (I, too, have seen this sculpture in person and most definitely support her opinion). 
  • Question 2: “Designers strengths should not be defined by their aesthetic or style, instead it’s truly thinking about the person at the heart of your design.” We need to consider how to best meet our audiences’ needs and bring our design skills in to solve those needs (have a love affair with your audience and truly understand their needs).

Chip Kidd // Knopf

  • Question 1: Many people are inspired by more than on single thing, we are constantly inspired by everything around us. Chip Kidd echoes this idea in his list of inspirations (obviously he has a quirky sense of humor): “whatever I’m working on…my monthly mortgage payment, living and working in NYC, and…office overlooking the Hudson” which gives him plenty of people to spy on.
  • Question 2: Designers need to develop an identity for themselves and get recognition and credit for their work (or else you’ll become anonymous and bitter and drink and cry). If you get recognized however…you’ll still drink…but at least it will be much higher-quality liquor because you’ll be getting paid better.

Paula Scher // Pentagram (and general Wonder Woman who inspires me to be the bomb some day)


  • Question 1: Paula Scher is not inspired by any single design: Design is only interesting in its time and in relationship to something else.
  • Question 2: “Design doesn’t go around solving problems…problems emerge and people think about ways to do things better…there isn’t anything specific that design should tackle…there are a myriad of things and they involve the way we live and the way we deal with our environment and society and how we can do these things better…Sometimes, design isn’t even the answer.”

Oooh…I like that. Sometimes, design isn’t even the answer. If COM565: Visual Aesthetics is not the answer. What is? Let me sleep on it and I’ll get back to you.


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