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Response to DO article on Makereadies and Ink

Jessica Helfand has posted an article on Design Observer about the end of Makereadies with the age of digital printing. And what it seems to mark for her:

Ephemerality is so often the casualty of any kind of progress, as production of any kind is invariably supplanted by quicker, cheaper, more efficient means. In this case, the more the physical object is compromised by speedy transmittal, the more our definitions of design, and of the methods that produce it, must adapt to new conceptions of both method and manufacture.


Here is my response:
The Work of Design in the Age of Mechanical/Digital Reproduction

A few months ago, I went to an actual printing press to oversee a job. This was the first time that I understood that designers made prototypes. There is this entire heavy manufacturing process (with large German machines) that takes place for a Adobe InDesign file to become a physical brochure. That was a magical moment for me (as a quasi-non-designer) in terms of understanding design's role in an "industrial" process.

I am in Santa Fe for the summer, and now I realize what it means to be in a place of "Art." And by art, I mean you can see the human imprint on the works. One can see the brush strokes of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting and know that a human hand made it. You know that it is human because it is imperfect in is regularity.

What you are expressing so elegantly, Jessica, is what happens to design and designing as we move further away from the visibility of human (and mechanical, thus human) imperfection in the work. Philip Burton once told me that it took him 3 years to design his "book" at Basel. The nearly insurmountable potential for human imperfection in hand typesetting is what probably makes that book a work of design superior to art. What makes Saul Bass's work so compelling to me is that you know he had to cut forms out by hand with that level of imperfect precision.

So in addition to your questions of methodological emphemerality and manufacturing efficiency what happens to design when the possibilities of human imperfection are so minimized that there is no sense of awe in design? Is this not what digitalization has done for design? Yes, people still to bad design with digital tools, but the results are probably "better" designs than if they had to use Exacto knives and T-squares.

Is this part of the further democratization of design for "the people" (i.e. Walter Benjamin's argument in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction? Is it part of the de-skilling of design for designers and printers? I think I could live with those outcomes in some ways.

Or does it speak to a deeper loss of the imperfections and "happy accidents" that make possible the delight, surprise, discovery, and humanity in a work of design? This to me would be the more tragic loss.

Yet, I do wonder, Jessica, who actually ever sees the makereadies? Is that moment of delight just for the designer or is a broader audience exposed to them? If it is the former, than perhaps the loss is double. That people do not see them and now they have become obsolete.

Why I think this matters? I once read an entire book of Shakespeare's sonnets. And you know, he wrote some really bad poetry. But, reading them made me appreciate the good poetry all the better because I understood all the possibilities of imperfection that made the good ones perfect. 


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