This week we invited people through Twitter to submit an article for our weekly discussion, thankfully Manchester based designer Chris Gray took the opportunity and here it is. If you would like to get involved in the future email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I probably spend an unhealthy amount of time on blogs, to the point where I waste hours looking at the same thing on about 200 different pages. Which did get me thinking about what I did before there was countless websites all doing the same thing yet are all equally popular. From working in a big studio environment and seeing the studio grind to a halt when the net dies to working for myself trying to be disciplined enough to not click safari every time I get a spare minute. There seems to be a total reliance on being able to surf the web as part of being a designer. Surely it can’t be a good thing that most of us are all getting the same inspiration from the same places. No wonder everyones work is starting to look the same. Every week I get e-mails from students that are carbon copies of a recent post and I wish I could reach through my monitor and give them a right old slap. Not to mention that every second advert on TV seems to be cack handed rip-off from something good found on a blog. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hasn’t forgotten the Berocca advert. So that’s me done. I’ve managed to convince myself that it would do me no harm from being offline. Well. At least until tomorrow.
So, where now, how do we stay aware without falling into the pitfalls of styles and trends?
Chris Gray runs the art label Toy, designs under the name We Shall See and is represented by Studio AKA. His work has appeared in Vice, idN, Computer Arts and books published by Victionary and Gestalten. He is also a writer for the Design Assembly. www.thisistoy.com
I did this as my dissertation years ago and how software and user skills showed that product design work was looking identical. Certain software made your hair dryer and toothbrush designs look the same as a food mixer. Parallels can be drawn.
The similar thing is happening within online / print design which are 'blog' inspired. There is a serious lack of new stuff happening as blogs have replaced research and its easy for folk to be seriously influenced by seeing the same "post / image" as Chris says on 16 sites daily — the blame does lay at our door.
I see stuff posted daily by designers that I know for fact are based on certain blog articles / nice images / FFF / dropular etc post.
I know exactly what you mean – I feel as if I get a lot of people's work confused, as so much of the painfully trendy stuff looks the same, and even some of the more recognisable stuff has that same feel to it.
Having said that, like so much of Stuff On The Internet, I think the internet works more as an accelerator, where it makes it easier to be influenced (and for us all to see and document the evidence of it) rather than by being the cause of it. I seem to remember feeling the same about a lot of designy books in the past too – just pages and pages of too cool for school sameyness. Surely this sort of thing has always been out there, it's just that we see it now because anyone can publish and/or link to it.
As far as influencing one's own work, I think it's easy for styles to just filter in unconsciously without being aware of it happening and you have to almost consciously fight against that (I'm not sure how well I do this, to be honest). I think another massively important point is to just use the internet as another tool – when was the last time you went to your local library or on a trip to look for inspiration rather than looked something up on the net? Do we even have time for this any more? I'm guilty of this kind of thing too, absolutely.
Perhaps (to be a bit more constructive and answer the "so, what now?" question), that's part of the solution, to consciously prevent yourself being lazy. Visit the blogs that find something different and look at things a bit differently, limit the number we visit, and then perhaps that quality over quantity approach makes it a bit more likely to remember what we've seen and be influenced by it in a more positive way, especially if it's coupled with a deliberate effort to push things in a new direction in our own work. As much as I get bored seeing the same stuff everywhere, I still visit the blogs, don't I? I think it's out of a feeling that I might miss out on something, when actually, that very probably doesn't matter. Particularly so if I miss it by seeing something out in the real world that no-one else is.
Sad as it may seem, I don't think you *can* stay aware without the internet any more. In order to bring in the amount of information I scan over in my RSS reader on a typical day, I'd have to spend thousands of pounds a month on books/periodicals etc.
I think it's just a case of whittling the number of blogs you visit down to a reasonable minimum and, as Laura says above, consciously forcing yourself to come up with fresh ideas - after all, if you know everyone else's work looks the same, in theory it should be easier to come up with something that doesn't, right?
i miss books, i used to love going to manchester or to london and seeking out Magma and alike, where i'd spend hours flicking through everything in there, now i happily pass by the book shop because 9 times out of 10 the content of them has appeared online on a blog somewhere at least twice before the books even out.
Because of the internet, now we can see anything we want, it covers every topic of design and every type of design, we dont have to make a choice just to leave with one book, which might fuel our exploration and craft for 3 months until next time we get a book. Now i can hit up a blog and find 10000 pieces of inspiration and never fully get into exactly what the movement or topic is. I think its all to easy to transfer the latest trend into your work through seeing these mass snippets of work on blog posts than it is to study and understand proper practice, a method that i relied on long before the blog culture.
I'm glad to see this issue being raised, as it has been needed for quite some time now. I am as guilty as the next RSS feed reader for having an excessive number of bookmarked blog or gallery sites but there has been times when I click through and see the same student project, flickr link or new book over ten times or more and not forgetting how many other people are online viewing the same.
The solution is down to what works best for you and making individual efforts in the search for that inspiring flash. Typical creative exercises, walks around the corner a couple of times or reading a book are all very simple ways to clear the mind for a refreshed approach to how you interpret the brief. Just moving away from the bloomin' computer would help wonders for a start...
With that in mind we have this new information in front of us so fast with so little effort, which in turn can make many lazy, predictable and as mentioned above close to identical. We are living and working in environments that demand results in such a small time span that for the majority of folk that require the use of a electric box for our supposed 9 to 5/6's (we wish!) have and will for some time still rely on these 'inspiration' sites.
We should be using the sites we are constantly flicking through as quick resources and not as the escapism or our main route to the aim of the project.
I gave up on looking at blogs quite so frequently a long time ago. Obviously it's important to be informed about your discipline, but I found that seeing nothing but other people's design/illustration every day just made me neglect to keep developing my own.
(I'm aware of the irony here given that I post to this very blog on occasion.)
I definitely agree about blogs cultivating a certain style or set of characteristics that just seem to be engineered to be Internet-popular, too. I'm terrified of slipping into this without realising so I've been spending a lot of time lately at the reference library, just blindly pulling books off the shelves in sections that seem interesting. I can't recommend it enough! It tempts you out of your usual go-to reference points and forces you approach work in new ways.
Trying to refrain from looking at blogs is necessarily the correct answer. But limiting yourself to websites or certain points of reference or inspiration is the best approach. It's very ironic because as designers or as we're interested in design and what others are doing, we creating the problem itself by writing or presenting work as blogs or directories. I visit It's Nice That during the week and it helps me to push on with that I do personally. But it's all about taking everything in and throwing that out and retaining 5% of what you feel is relevant.
go to libraries it's harder work hence you reap more benefits
I jumped on the design/portfolio blog bandwagon kind of late (last summer), but it was incredible at the beginning. I was so inspired by everything I was seeing and so high on how much visual stimulation and input I was getting. At first it made me want to better myself; I actually learned a lot and I felt like my eye was getting better at knowing what looks good. But now I feel like every single designer out there, or mostly the recent college or MFA graduates, are doing exactly the same thing. Yes, it all looks good... but so what? Is there any substance behind all this style? I've started to feel a little disgusted by all of it now, but I've realized that good, timeless design has to have purpose, a good concept, backed up by a lot of research, and the inspiration shouldn't rely entirely on more graphic design or design , but on everything else out there in the "real" world. Go to a museum and view some real artwork hanging on a wall, or a sculpture. Go to a concert, see a performance, sketch, experiment, read, cut, tear, paste... you get the point. This is a really good article on what makes a graphic designer or creative good and where their inspiration comes from http://howdesign.coverleaf.com/howmagazine/200812/?pg=104
I really don't think it's far more different than 20 years (or more) ago, before the Internet. Before we had books, magazines and posters, and many other media to be influential to young designers and to build trends. The difference is in the very core of the digital media. First it's open, so anyone can publish it's ideas. Second, it's fast, moving faster every day. Third, it's fluid, not static, so copying and reusing/remixing seems a lot easier, as there is no real material involved, it's all digital data.
The thing is that we are stil misusing all this power. In a few places (like this one) the digital media has proven to be a tool for creativity. It's also a tool for the cliché? Yes, as printed media also was before, in a more paced speed, but in essence was the same.
And has this influentiality become limited only to design? Look at music, photography, cinema, science even linguistics. We are all comunicating because we all have been copying the same language from one another.
I think it's too naive and too egocentric to think that we are "creators". Everything that we know is because someone has taught it to us. We are evolving togheter. It's not one person who has made design as it is today and it won't be one person that will change it. Embracing a good idea and using it is as far as important than creating it.
Who doesn't like Helvetica, throw the first rock.