The value of “bullshit”

“It follows that every design presentation is inevitably, at least in part, an exercise in bullshit. The design process always combines the pursuit of functional goals with countless intuitive, even irrational decisions. The functional requirements—the house needs a bathroom, the headlines have to be legible, the toothbrush has to fit in your mouth—are concrete and often measurable. The intuitive decisions, on the other hand, are more or less beyond honest explanation.”

—Michael Bierut
“On (Design) Bullshit” from 79 Short Essays on Design (Amazon affiliate link)

Frankly, I think clients hire designers based on the “bullshit” (intuitive decisions) – not on the functional requirements. I can’t explain to you why I think the headlines look better in Bodoni or why the logo looks better two pixels to the left. It just does.

I think almost anyone can read a few books or take a few classes and satisfy the basic design needs. They can talk about functionality. But there is something to be said for those that absorb the world around them and develop an eye that just “knows” what to pick.

These same designers also “know” that the following conversation doesn’t fly with clients:

Client: Why did you pick that font?

Designer: “Uh… I dunno. I just liked it.”

No. Instead we launch into these winded, passionate explanations… talking about things like mood, and what the type evokes. Honestly, it’s pure bullshit (and I’m sure our clients know it). But we will paint whatever picture we have to in order to convince the client to come along with us. Granted, they are paying us (hopefully) very good money, and I can understand why they deserve a better explanation than “Uh… I dunno.”

So, dear designers, if your clients aren’t taking your advice – don’t automatically assume that your design skills are lacking…try practicing your “bullshitting.” Try to say something about why you think Futura is more appropriate than Papyrus. I think clients trust us more when we talk with them, not at them. And good clients are the first to acknowledge that you know more than they do on the subject — after all, that’s why they hired you.

And, clients, perhaps try to be open to the idea that we can’t always concisely articulate the why part. I don’t know that a chef would be able to explain how he or she balanced the flavors to create something so delicious. It’s subjective. It’s intuitive. And it’s what distinguishes one designer from another.

…or is this just more (design) bullshit?

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