Thursday, September 23, 2010

Punk’s Influence on Design

Punk Lesson 1: Don’t Sit on Your Ass: Go Forth and Design For Others
As the “social design” movement seems to be kicking into high gear, I’m very excited that we have the power to “be the change we want to see in the world” (quote by Gandhi, the punkest of them all, who gave a big pacifist-fuck-you to the status quo.) and while the rest of the world starves, dies from Malaria, hides from genocide, and is tricked into slavery, I sit in the comfort buxom of America writing about design. But, “I recognize the irony that the very system I oppose affords me the luxury of biting the hand that feeds. But that’s exactly why priviledged fucks like me should feel obliged to whine and kick and scream- until everyone has everything they need.” (quote by Propagandhi, the second punkest of them all.). Which is why designers should all use this given freedom and luxury to create solutions to make the world a little bit better. It’s punk to challenge the luxuries of our world and use our power to bring design to the global masses.

Punk Lesson 2: Without the good idea, the design is shit.
I can sum up the four years of my $160,000 education in one line from a song “Good frames won’t save bad paintings” by The Refused. What this meant to me is that the Concept is the most important ingredient in a design. Regardless of how “good” something is, whether its aesthetics, function, ergonomics, etc, it won’t save a bad Concept. It’s all about the Concept.

Punk Lesson 3: What You Love Is the Most Important
My last day at Nissan, instead of a thank you/goodbye/keep-in-touch email, I sent the lyrics from “South East First” by Hot Water Music to all the departments I worked with
“it never mattered who you were or where you worked
it never mattered who you were or what you earned
what mattered was what you gave and what you loved
what mattered was what you gave and what was learned”
Design needs to know what matters and this quote says what does, and does not matter.

Punk Lesson 4: Play at Eye Level
Punk is about equality. Elitism isn’t tolerated and icons and heroes are to be scoffed. There is no distinction between audience and musician, which is why they play at the same level, and not up on a stage (the real deal anyway). Inaccessible design or elitist design is never going to be for the masses. Keep it at eye level, on equal footing.

Punk Lesson 5: Design Is Not Design Without Ethics
Fugazi/Minor Threat was never a fan of capitalism and so has never made merch to sell at shows. At the request of loyal fans, they reluctantly pressed music and sold their music, but they didn’t want to be owned by some record label so they started their own. They were a large part of the DIY movement of today which combatted mass commercialization and the removal of ethics that was inherent in mass-consumed goods. DIY went hand-in-hand with a set of ethics. Now the ballistic Etsy missle, is full charge ahead raising craft DIY WITHOUT the ethics. Individual copycats galore, trying to make a quick buck, undermining the design process. Design without an infusion of ethics will be guaranteed to do humanity an injustice.

Punk Lesson 6: Design for the Unpopular
Glen E. Friedman and Ed Colver are a couple of the most prolific photographers of our time. Glen Friedman photographed portraiture for unknown musicians like Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Ice-T, Black Flag. Ed Colver captured the rising culture of the punk rock shows of the early 80′s. They became popular in the 90′s because they did stuff that no one bothered doing at the time. Design things that you love, though it may be unpopular, the world will appreciate it later. Unpopular design won’t make you famous, it won’t make you rich, but you won’t regret it. As HWM said, “Live your heart and never follow”.

Punk Lesson 7: Stop Being Sarcastic and Ironic
Punk always gave a big ol’ middle finger to the mainstream media so it’s no wonder that every flyer was a mishmash of cut-up clippings and text from existing media. Your punk rock friend at Kinko’s would make your photocopies a thousand times for you, free of charge. The master of this art form in the visual scene was Art Chantry, who made flyers for Nirvana, Mud Honey, and every other punk-grunge band of Seattle. In music terms, Girltalk’s work is totally punk. Mixing up things you’re not supposed to mix got pretty popular in design but it came out as Ironic-Williamsburg style. That’s not punk. If you’re going to do it, mean it.

Punk Lesson 8: If You Are a Designer, You Are Automatically Not Special
So the urban legend goes that a few friends just stole some band’s gear that they left outside. The friends took it home and sat on it for a while and then thought “we have all this music equipment, we should make some music”. The Sex Pistols was born. The point of punk was that ANYONE could play the songs, and it’s still true today. I can teach you how to play pop-punk Blink or GreenDay songs in one sitting. Just like punk, anyone can design. Design is accessible to anyone. Design can be done by anyone. Design IS done by everyone. So I never think I’m all that special being a designer.

Punk Lesson 9: Do not $ellout
Don’t do things for money. It keeps it authentic. Do take money if you think you deserve it.

Punk Lesson 10: Change Starts with the Consumer
By the time I got to Nissan, they’d already been talking about building an Electric Vehicle. Consumers wanted it and so the market responds. I had protested and faught against corporate designs that were oppressive like child labor by Nike in the 80′s and 90′s, or biodesigned foods. I never quite gauged how effective protests and consumer opinions were. So I thought I could make a bigger difference from the inside creating great designs that helps people and participates in the market-game. The truth is that both is important. You need people on the outside raising awareness and desiring good and ethical designs. Then you need the people inside to design it and convince the business-types “hey, the consumers really want this”. Business isn’t evil or good, it’s just devoid of ethics. Design and Research is where you can infuse the humanity. Companies sometimes try to slow down individuals or groups, but they can’t stop a movement. They’re smart, they always join the winning team.

I want designs to have the Punk attitude. It’s rare that I see a design that makes me grab my hair in utter confusion and ask “WTF!?” Designs, so good that it brings me to tears. I want designs like that. That emotion, the rawness of punk, is what’s missing in my designs, and am working to acheive.
- Ko Nakatsu

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