This morning, I got into a friendly banter war with my dad, who is a master instigator. After browsing through my website, he started questioning me about what the point is of different typefaces and why my typeface is better than any other typeface. “If I wrote down the alphabet and you did, and we showed it to 500 people, who’s to say more than half wouldn’t choose mine,” he said, roughly. “Wouldn’t that make all your years of design study and work meaningless?”
A more delusional or pessimistic person (mind you, I carry my share of gloom) might say he was taking a shot at my career, ambitions, and demeaning my life’s work. However, I know better, for a few reasons
- 1. my dad is the sweetest fella you’re likely to ever meet
- 2. my dad likes to start arguments just for the sake of arguing
- 3. design really isn’t and shouldn’t be the center of my life
- 4. 95% of the general public probably feel the same way
This, I thought, is not only a universal and timeless topic of discourse; it’s also a great introductory discussion for this blog. The broad theme I’d like to explore is exactly what the title proposes. What is our role as designers, artists, musicians, and why should we keep doing what we do? What is the point of creating new typefaces? What purpose does our studying of typography, composition, and color theory serve in the real world? Who cares that you’re using a 3/4 rhythm ?
Firstly, let me state that I don’t intend to answer these questions. In fact, I nearly fell asleep writing those last few sentences, because they sound like a bunch of textbook jargon. And for designers who know what I’m talking about, these all sound like stupid questions. BUT, any learned designer or design teacher would, if asked, dryly regurgitate that our first purpose is to serve and communicate with the general public. We shouldn’t cater to our designer peers….if so, then what we do really is pointless. Occasionally, then, it serves us well to think about these questions as they pertain to the real world. So let’s get back to the discussion I had.
The conversation started as a simple questioning — “What’s the Difference?” — type of thing.
I explained how even though most people don’t notice or care that different typography even exists, its usage, along with many other visual and verbal factors, really do affect how the average person perceives what they see, read, and watch. I talked about how a particular face might be better suited for one setting than another face. Addressing the question of why my typeface, or any typeface, is better than any other, I felt like I gave a grade-A answer. “Your handwriting would probably make an amazing typeface. Write down the alphabet, I’ll scan it in, clean it up, and we’ll make some money. It will be beautiful. However, set up a task, involving stipulations like legibility, uniformity, suitability for a particular task, or anything technical, and I will without question destroy you or any other non-designer.” I then stepped over the lines and pointed out that I have the resources and technical know-how to provide a usable font, while he wouldn’t know where to start. All in good fun still. We continued.
After frustratingly trying to point out the subtle differences between a transitional serif face and a modern sans, I felt myself mentally reverting into Pompous Designer Mode. Everyone designer worth his salt knows exactly what I’m talking about, whether or not they’ll admit it. Otherwise, they’re of a saintly type that I’m not familiar with. We fall back on things they taught us in design school. “Designers are of a different breed. We just think differently. They just don’t get it.We see the world as it really is. We see through the bullshit. Blah blah blah.” The underlying theme in all this hogwash is that as designers, we are somehow A Cut Above — at least as far as communication is concerned. I believe I pulled my head out of my arse & sort of stepped out of that mode of thought a few years ago, thankfully. And my playful back and forth with my dad certainly didn’t lean too far toward PDM, because we both meant well. But remnants of it still rear their ugly heads occasionally, particularly when I feel threatened or my pride takes a shot to the gut.
After my 5-6 years of working in the business, I’ve discovered that there is a balance that has to be struck in taking a simple pride in what you do, while realizing that everyone else doesn’t need to be impressed with or even interested in it. Where that balance lies, I’ve yet to figure out.
So what good or productive nugget of enlightenment has come of this rant? Well, I’ve come upon what I believe is my stance on what I do and why it matters.
In the grand scheme of things, when all things are made new, when there’s a new heaven and a new earth, when everything present has turned to ashes, I realize that no one will likely care about what typeface was used on Fox NFL. Nobody will care what software I mastered, what posters I designed, or how cleverly I transferred those initials into a waterfall. Nobody is likely to pat me on my back for my naive attempt at creating original music. After all, there’s nothing new under the sun, really. But, following that same line of thought, no one will care who ran the fastest forty, who won Super Bowl 37 (quick, tell me who it was), or who invented toothpicks. It probably won’t enter our minds how spiffily we dressed on our meager budgets, or how drastically we transformed our 1950′s-era home into a warm, yet modern haven of comfort.
So as soon as you point out the triviality of my work, I shall hold a mirror at you and be damned if you’re not convicted in the same way.
I’ve gone beyond what I actually believe, for the sake of extremism, in stating the irrelevance of our respective careers and earthly callings. I actually do believe that it all matters. I do believe that whether or not you consciously notice the unique cuts of my typeface, it in some way shapes the way you perceive the poster I’ve used it on. I do believe that choosing an augmented chord rather than the diminished effects the mood of your listener. And in either of these cases, the result could somehow be life-changing.
And beyond all earthly cause-effect relationships, I believe God cares how we use what he’s given us, and I’ve been told he’s proud of his children just like we are (only in a much grander way). If I could stifle my doubts and self-questioning for a moment, I should be able to picture our Maker with my posters and accolades on his wall, proud of what his child has done through my meager, yet heartfelt attempts. And perhaps we will discuss our earthly callings with each other in the afterlife and be proud or excited about them. I’m lead to believe, however, that we will talk about them in a way that only brings joy, without our current nasty brand of pride and ugly baggage that we carry, mentally cursing people even as we compliment them outwardly.
Until then, I’ll continue to do what I feel like I’m good at, what brings me joy, what I feel doesn’t stifle others, what I feel I’m “called” to do; you should do the same.